Brendan Rodgers has called on his Celtic players to maintain cool heads when they run out at Ibrox for Sunday’s showdown with cinch Premiership title rivals Rangers.

The Hoops are a point above Gers, who have a game in hand, so the outcome of this weekend’s derby is likely to have a significant bearing on the outcome of what is shaping up as the tightest championship race since the Light Blues’ financial implosion more than a decade ago.

However, Rodgers has told his players to focus fully on playing football and not the potential ramifications of victory or defeat.

“It starts with the whole build-up,” said the Hoops boss. “I think it’s important not to get entrenched in the whole storyline because at times the storyline can be that ‘it could a disaster’.

“But for me the storyline is that there is always opportunity. You arrive, you stay calm and you just look to focus on your performance.

“This is one of the greatest, most iconic games in world football but you’ve got to perform and you can only do that by staying calm and looking to play your football.”

Rodgers – who has lost just one of his 16 matches against Rangers in his two stints as Celtic boss – insisted he has not given too much consideration to how any particular result at Ibrox might leave the title race.

“I haven’t over-thought it,” he said. “I always prepare the team to win, I never think of drawing or losing a game. I always prepare the team to go and win the game and it’s served me well especially in these types of games.

“You can’t win them all, of course, but the mindset is to impose ourselves on the game and then let’s see where we are at at the end of it.

“I always feel really comfortable coming into these (Old Firm) games but that’s only on the back of preparation and the clarity we want to give to the players.

“And also because of how we play. I have always been confident in that and we have come in to a lot of these big games and performed very well.

“It’s not always perfect but we have performed well in them.”

After struggling for form at various points this term, Rodgers feels the return of key players from injury has helped Celtic regain their “authority” recently.

The Hoops could be at full strength for the trip to Ibrox if captain Callum McGregor and winger Luis Palma are declared fit.

“It’s just having the authority back on the pitch, and you saw that at Livingston last weekend,” said Rodgers.

“When we are at our best, we are not giving much away whilst creating that great platform.

“No matter how good you are attacking wise, it’s about consistency in how you defend.

“We are at our best when we are super organised and tight – and then everything is connected with and without the ball.

“That will be the same on Sunday. We will be attack-minded and front foot, but attack-minded when we defend too. When we do that, we can play very well.”

Philippe Clement is excited rather than nervous about Sunday’s keenly-awaited Old Firm game at Ibrox.

Rangers are one point behind reigning cinch Premiership champions Celtic with a game in hand as title race tensions increase by the week.

It is the first of eight remaining league fixtures for the Govan side, who are desperate to wrest the title back from Parkhead and it is the first home Glasgow derby for the Belgian boss.

Asked if there were any nerves from within heading into the game, Clement said: “No, I love it. I’m not nervous, I’m excited about it, I’m looking forward to it.

“This is something you need to embrace, not be nervous about. These are great afternoons.

“I have a lot of confidence in my squad and I have a lot of confidence in our fans so those are the challenging moments because you play against a good team who will do their best to beat you and there will be a lot of quality from both sides.

“It’s the only way also to grow as a player, to have challenges, to have tough games, to play against good opponents.

“If you make the next steps into that you go to another level and that’s what I want to do with this club and with the squad next season – to become better and to raise the level time after time with a lot of success and maybe some disappointments along the way because that’s also the way to success. To learn lessons out of that.

“I prefer to have success on Sunday, let’s be clear about that.”

Clement admits Rangers will need to keep an eye on Celtic captain Callum McGregor, who is expected to return from injury to the Hoops midfield where he was instrumental in guiding his side to a 1-0 win at Ibrox in September – when Michael Beale was Gers boss – and a 2-1 victory at Parkhead in December.

He said: “I don’t totally agree that he dominated the play at Celtic Park. There were moments that he was good on the ball but there were also moments where he wasn’t dominating the game.

“I think my midfielders also dominated the game in moments. I saw the first game and it’s true he was dominating but I don’t need to say too much about that.

“He’s a very good player and he’s somebody with a lot of quality.

“He’s really good on the ball and he’s very important for their team so it’s important to take that strength out of their team and that’s one part you need to do but it’s not only about one player. They have a lot of good players.”

Rangers climbed back to the top of the cinch Premiership with a 3-1 win over Hibernian at Ibrox which had its fair of thrills and spills.

Scott Wright thought he had put Rangers ahead in the 21st minute when he slotted home after visiting keeper David Marshall had saved a James Tavernier penalty, but the Light Blues winger was penalised for encroachment and the effort was disallowed.

The home side did not have to wait much longer to get their noses in front though, with Gers skipper Tavernier making amends for his miss by firing in his 22nd goal of the season.

Myziane Maolida poked in a shock equaliser on the stroke of half-time, but Gers responded immediately with Cyriel Dessers putting the home side back in front with a header before the interval.

Second-half substitute Rabbi Matondo then drove in a wonderful third goal in the 85th minute to take Rangers two points ahead of Celtic having both played 30 fixtures.

The Hoops travel to bottom side Livingston on Sunday firm favourites to get the win which will set up nicely for next week’s Old Firm derby at Ibrox.

Every passing week brings more tension to the title race and Philippe Clement’s side knew what was at stake.

The Govan side, with left-back Borna Barisic and midfielder Todd Cantwell reinstated, took an immediate grip of the game against the unchanged Easter Road outfit.

Wright fired a shot just wide from the edge of the box then saw his close-range effort from a Dessers cut-back blocked by Hibs defender Jordan Obita before Marshall parried a long-range effort from Mohamed Diomande.

However, referee David Dickinson was then asked by VAR Andrew Dallas to check his pitchside monitor for a possible foul by Hibs’ Nectarios Triantis, with his arm on Gers defender John Souttar at a previous corner and he pointed to the spot.

Marshall blocked Tavernier’s penalty – as he had at Easter Road in the Scottish Gas Scottish Cup earlier this month – but Wright followed up to hammer in the rebound, only for VAR to confirm he had encroached and a free-kick was given to the visitors.

Five minutes later, Tavernier made up for his mistake when he volleyed in from 16 yards after John Lundstram’s cross had only been partially cleared, with Hibs defender Will Fish unable to keep the ball out.

Seven minutes were added on at the end of the first half and Hibs took advantage to level. Elie Youan set up fellow attacker Maolida inside the box and he beat Connor Goldson, got in front of Tavernier and prodded the ball past Jack Butland.

Tension immediately engulfed Ibrox but that was alleviated in the sixth minute of added time when Dessers, who had moments earlier saw an effort saved by Marshall, headed a Cantwell cross in off the bar.

Hibs had to withstand more pressure at the start of the second half with Marshall making saves from Cantwell and Dessers but at 2-1 there was still underlying anxiety among Gers fans, erupting when Dessers failed to hit the target from eight yards from a Tavernier cut-back.

The game flattened out for a spell as both sides used their respective benches to change things up.

In the 77th minute Gers substitute Tom Lawrence opted to cut the ball back instead of shooting when through on the angle against Marshall and a glorious chance was gone.

However, another Rangers replacement, Matondo, took matters into his own hands when taking possession 20 yards from goal, sending the ball fizzing past the helpless Marshall and any nerves were banished.

Rangers were knocked out of the Europa League after conceding the only goal against Benfica at Ibrox to lose 3-2 on aggregate.

Philippe Clement’s side were caught on the counter-attack by a simple forward ball in the 66th minute and Rafa Silva’s goal stood following a VAR check after initially being ruled out for offside.

Rangers had twice taken the lead in Lisbon last week but a penalty and an own goal cost them victory in the first leg and they could not take advantage of several chances in a tighter affair in Glasgow.

The Rangers fans in the Broomloan Stand produced a massive pre-match display that showed their sights were very much on the road to Dublin for the final on May 22 ahead of the last-16 second leg.

But there will be no repeat of the club’s run to the 2022 final and the cinch Premiership leaders must now focus on what could still be a highly successful domestic season with a treble a real possibility.

Benfica had some good early possession but Rangers had the first real chance when Tom Lawrence combined with Fabio Silva and fired a shot which Anatoliy Trubin let through his legs. The visiting goalkeeper was fortunate to see the ball trundle wide after hitting off his leg.

Lawrence soon had another chance when James Tavernier’s clever low corner gave him a free shot at goal 15 yards out but he failed to connect properly.

Jack Butland showed good hands in the slippery conditions to hold Alexander Bah’s long-range strike.

The vast majority of the 50,000 fans, including the Benfica supporters, paid tribute in the 25th minute to young Rangers fan Thomas McAllister, who died while in Lisbon for the first leg.

The first half continued in a more cagey fashion than that 2-2 draw in Portugal.

John Souttar was impressing in central defence for Rangers and his cross almost fell for Cyriel Dessers before Scott Wright slipped in the act of shooting from 22 yards and the ball sailed over.

Rangers survived a dangerous Benfica attack after John Lundstram fluffed a pass inside his own half.

The home side had a great chance on the counter-attack before the break following good work from Wright, but Lawrence picked the wrong option and played in a clearly offside Dessers.

Dessers did get a chance early in the second half after Wright burst past two opponents and played the striker in. The forward might have gone for goal first time but he took a touch and his shot was heading for the far corner but deflected just wide.

The home side kept on the pressure but Benfica worked a good chance for Casper Tengstedt following a slick break. The substitute shot straight at Butland from 12 yards.

Rangers were again exposed from a counter-attack as Benfica took the lead for the first time in the tie.

Angel Di Maria headed on a ball over the top and Rafa Silva raced clear before slotting home. The offside flag went up but a lengthy VAR check decided the goalscorer was just inside his own half when the ball was played on, and the goal was given.

Rangers’ attempts to get back in the game were not helped by the surface water on the pitch slowing the ball down amid a day of incessant rain in Glasgow and Butland saved well from Bah as Benfica looked to finish off the tie.

Lundstram got an effort on target in the latter stages but Trubin saved comfortably and Rangers’ hopes ended when substitute Todd Cantwell stabbed wide in stoppage-time.

Dan Casey’s stunning second-half goal gave Motherwell a shock 2-1 win over Rangers at Ibrox and handed the initiative in the cinch Premiership title race back to Celtic.

Stuart Kettlewell’s side silenced most of Ibrox in the ninth minute with a goal from striker Theo Bair which left the Light Blues struggling to read an unexpected script.

Gers skipper James Tavernier scored from the spot on the hour after the VAR had intervened but Irish defender Casey restored the visitors’ lead with a close-range finish in the 74th minute for the first Well win in the league in Govan since 1997.

It was a first defeat in 12 games in all competitions for Philippe Clement’s side and although they remain two points clear of their Old Firm rival at the top of the table, Celtic get the chance to leapfrog them against Hearts at Tynecastle on Sunday.

Clement’s side had fought back to beat Kilmarnock 2-1 at Rugby Park on Wednesday night, which kept them ahead of the Hoops and it was widely believed that three more points would be garnered against the Steelmen.

Ridvan Yilmaz, Nico Raskin, Dujon Sterling and Cyriel Dessers came back in to the team amid the usual rotation.

Motherwell, with defender Shane Blaney and on-loan Blackburn striker Jack Vale returning, arrived in eighth place fresh from a 3-1 win at bottom side Livingston.

The visitors had the first chance when defender Bevis Mugabi headed a Blair Spittal corner over the bar but they did not miss the second. Vale got past defender John Souttar and cut the ball back for Bair to steer the ball past goalkeeper Jack Butland and in off the post for his sixth goal in nine games.

Dessers headed a Yilmaz past the post and Well keeper Liam Kelly punched a dipping shot from Mohamed Diomande past the post for a corner before Kelly made an even better save from Yilmaz’s swerving shot from distance.

The traffic towards the Motherwell goal was busy but in the 35th minute Spittal had a decent effort saved by Butland, before winger Ross McCausland was replaced by Fabio Silva after failing to shake off the effects of a crunching Casey tackle.

Silva weakly knocked a long pass from Connor Goldson into the arms of a grateful Kelly and Rangers’ best chance of the first-half was gone.

Tom Lawrence replaced Raskin for the start of the second half and within two minutes Dessers had the ball in the Well net from a yard out but the flag was up for an infringement as a clutch of players contested a high ball.

Soon after Spittal’s flick hit the crossbar at the other end, the Govan side were level.

There was a long VAR check for a penalty when Motherwell right-back Stephen O’Donnell tackled Silva inside the box and when referee Alan Muir checked his pitchside monitor and pointed to the spot, Tavernier smashed the ball high past Kelly for his 21st goal of the season.

The home fans roared Rangers on for a winner and Sterling missed the target when set up by John Lundstram.

However, sprightly Motherwell retained more than a hint of danger.

Bair got past Goldson to spring a Motherwell break but hit his pass straight at Souttar, although Casey made no mistake when he headed in Spittal’s deep cross to the back post.

Rangers threw everything forward in the final stages.

Kelly made good saves from Lundstram and Yilmaz and Goldson twice missed the target with headers from six yards and Well defender Paul McGinn cleared off the line.

But Casey’s goal was a blow from which Rangers did not recover and they will need to dig deep when they play the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie against Benfica in Lisbon on Thursday night.

Rangers moved level on points with cinch Premiership leaders Celtic as Neil Warnock’s first game as Aberdeen boss ended with a 2-1 defeat at Ibrox.

The 75-year-old’s appointment until the end of the season had captured interest UK-wide but, in a turbo-charged start to the game by the home side, winger Rabbi Matondo capitalised on a mistake by Dons keeper Kelle Roos to give Gers the lead.

However, Dons striker Bojan Miovski levelled as the first-half entered three added minutes with his 20th goal of the season.

Rangers piled on the pressure in the second half and in the 73rd minute, when Roos palmed away a Tom Lawrence thunderbolt, Todd Cantwell followed up to finish it off.

Rangers second-half substitute Dujon Sterling was shown a straight red card by referee Don Robertson in the 88th minute for a tackle on Jack MacKenzie – the official stuck with his decision despite the VAR asking him to check his pitchside monitor – and the 10-man home side played out eight added minutes before victory was confirmed.

Rangers and Celtic are now on 58 points with the Hoops boasting a superior goal difference of just one.

Celtic play at Hibernian on Wednesday, which will again leave the Light Blues with a game in hand as the title race heats up further.

Gers boss Philippe Clement brought in John Souttar, Ridvan Yilmaz, Lawrence and Cyriel Dessers with Mohamed Diomande, the 22-year-old midfielder signed on a loan from Nordsjaelland with an obligation for the Light Blues to buy, on the bench.

Warnock’s first team selection showed two changes from the side which started in the draw against Celtic at weekend with Jonny Hayes and Leighton Clarkson in for Dante Polvara and Killian Phillips.

The home supporters were up for the game and soon had something to cheer with a goal initiated by Matondo’s pass to Cantwell.

The Gers player moved the ball on to winger Ross McCausland whose low drive from the edge of the box seemed to lack real power to trouble Roos but he spilled the shot to the on-rushing Matondo who blasted it into the net from close range.

It was mostly all Rangers.

Matondo hesitated before getting a shot away after he had carved open the Aberdeen defence and his effort was blocked for a corner which Lawrence headed over.

Rangers appeared in control but when midfielder Connor Barron lobbed the ball forward it caught the Light Blues napping and Miovski fended off defender Connor Goldson and slipped the ball past Butland with assurance.

The goal turned the Ibrox crowd into critics and there was a different feel to the start of the second half.

Roos made saves from Matondo and Dessers but the flag was up for offside. That was enough for Clement.

Matondo made way for new boy Oscar Cortes, the Colombian winger on loan from Lens, with Fabio Silva replacing Dessers.

Aberdeen were pinned back in their own half but a well-organised and determined defence kept an increasingly frantic Rangers at bay.

The Dons repelled a series of corners with Roos blocking a Lawrence shot with his foot following one of Yilmaz’s deliveries.

However, Lawrence’s next effort from distance was venomous and although the Pittodrie keeper made a decent save, the ball fell to Cantwell who slid the ball back into the net for his fifth goal in eight games.

Amid more substitutions, Diomande replaced Cantwell in the 85th minute to make his debut and took part in a frantic finale where Sterling, on for Lawrence, was dismissed with referee Robertson asked to check his pitchside monitor by the VAR only to stick to his guns.

It was quite an introduction to Scottish football for Warnock but Rangers continue their chase of Celtic.

Philippe Clement was left puzzled after Rangers conceded a rare penalty in the 3-1 win over Kilmarnock at Ibrox.

The Ibrox club had called for more transparency over VAR’s interpretation of handball after there had been no spot-kick awarded after the ball had come off Celtic defender Alistair Johnston’s hand inside the box in the 2-1 defeat at Parkhead on Saturday.

Rangers were leading 2-0 against fourth-place Killie through goals by Ross McCausland and Abdallah Sima when VAR called for a penalty check after Rory McKenzie’s cross struck the arm of Gers defender John Souttar inside the box.

Referee John Beaton went to his pitchside monitor and then pointed to the spot, with Danny Armstrong giving Jack Butland no chance before Todd Cantwell restored the two-goal lead to keep the Light Blues eight points behind Celtic with two games in hand.

It was the first penalty Rangers had conceded in 75 cinch Premiership matches since Lewis Ferguson netted for Aberdeen in a 1-1 draw in January 2022

Clement told Rangers TV: “The only downside for me is that I cannot explain to my players anymore what is handball and what is not after this game if we get a penalty against like this and a goal against like this three days after what happened at Celtic Park.

“I can’t give them an explanation and that’s different as a manager when you cannot give an explanation.

“It’s not easy. Afterwards, we can laugh and it’s not a big difference, it’s 3-0 or 3-1.

“Just for the future, it needs to be clear for everybody what is handball and what is not handball and these two situations it’s a little bit bizarre.”

Cinch Premiership games at Ibrox and Pittodrie were postponed after extreme weather conditions caused travel problems in the north of Scotland.

Rangers saw their home game against Ross County called off about 1.30pm on Wednesday as snow prevented the visitors travelling down the A9.

Motherwell got to Aberdeen early but many supporters of both clubs were stuck as roads were closed because of flooding in the north east.

A Scottish Professional Football League statement confirmed Rangers’ game was called off “following consultation with Police Scotland regarding today’s weather conditions on the A9”.

A Rangers statement added:  “Despite the Ibrox playing surface being in good condition and ready to host the match, adverse weather conditions on the A9 means our visitors have been unable to reach Glasgow.”

The postponement means Rangers will go into Saturday’s derby at Celtic Park five points behind the leaders with two games in hand, and with extra time to prepare after Brendan Rodgers’ side beat Dundee on Boxing Day.

Aberdeen’s clash with Motherwell at Pittodrie was called off after Storm Gerrit caused flooding to many of the main routes into the city and prompted the cancellation of rail services.

Motherwell told fans that the A90 had been closed in both directions and directed supporters to the A92 via Arbroath and Montrose. However, that road was soon closed just north of Dundee and roads via Forfar were also affected by flooding.

Chief executive Alan Burrows told the Dons’ official website: “Whilst much of Pittodrie has been battered by significant rain and gale force winds, the stadium itself and the pitch have coped admirably well.

“However, as roads became flooded and unpassable or damaged due to fallen trees and with rail services being cancelled north of Dundee, it was clear it was going to be a very difficult ask for many supporters of both clubs to safely get to Pittodrie.

“We remained in dialogue with all stakeholders and after putting our case across to the league, it was agreed between the two clubs, the league and the police that it was safest to rearrange the game.”

Motherwell later told supporters the decision was made on the advice of Police Scotland following road closures.

“With the Motherwell team travelling to Aberdeen first thing this morning, we had been in communication with Aberdeen all day and we were advised that the pitch was playable and there were no safety concerns at the stadium,” a statement read.

“We had also been advised that the weather forecast was to improve closer to kick-off.

“Following constant discussions between the two clubs, the SPFL and Police Scotland, the decision was taken to postpone the match for the safety of supporters travelling to the game. We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused to anyone travelling to Aberdeen.”

It was a second postponement in a row for both County and Aberdeen, who saw their weekend games fall foul of waterlogged pitches.

Raging Rangers boss Philippe Clement claimed John Lundstram was “kicked off the pitch” in the 2-0 cinch Premiership win over St Johnstone at Ibrox.

The Belgian watched luckless striker Kemar Roofe go off after just 16 minutes with another injury but replacement Cyriel Dessers fired the Light Blues ahead in the 28th minute before Diallang Jaiyesimi was soon sent off for a hefty challenge on Lundstram after a VAR intervention saw referee Alan Muir upgrade a yellow to a red with the Rangers midfielder kept in at the break.

Rangers doubled their lead in the 84th minute with a penalty from skipper James Tavernier to go within two points of leaders Celtic with a game in hand.

But Clement was unhappy with the tackle on Lundstram who is a doubt for the fixtures before the January break, including the Old Firm game at Parkhead on December 30, while Roofe will also be “assessed” on Thursday.

Clement said: “It’s another player who is kicked off the pitch, so I am really frustrated with that. It’s his ankle so we will see in the next couple of days what will happen.

“This for me is my main concern after the game – again a player kicked off the pitch. I’m not sure we can get him back before the winter break so that’s not a good situation.

“I don’t want to go in on emotions after the game, I am a little boiling so it’s better to cool down and make opinions about leagues or whatever.

“But it clearly wasn’t a good challenge with your studs forward like that. We had an even worse one later in the game when the guy luckily hit the ball and not my player (Dan Phillips on Kieran Dowell), the intensity there was to break a leg.

“Those things are not good for football.”

Asked why he took off Tavernier in the closing stages, Clement said: “It was more to see I don’t lose any more important players for the next couple of weeks and not to take risks that another one was kicked off.”

On the game, Clement said: “We did a lot of things well. We had control of the game from the start until the end. It is not easy to play against 10 men when they are so deep, with no space.

“We kept our organisation, my defenders stayed focused. We could have had more goals, a few good saves also.

“We were waiting for that second goal, it came late. But we kept on pushing to get the goal and we had enough chances to do that.”

St Johnstone boss Craig Levein had no complaints about the red card.

He said: “I thought it was a red card. I thought the referee was right. In the modern day that’s a red – certainly if it had happened to one of our players I’d be calling for a red card so I am not going to sit here and say anything different.

“He has gone in with force and hasn’t got the ball. It is a red card.”

On the Dan Phillips challenge, however, he said: “I thought that was a good tackle.”

Philippe Clement claims his Rangers side demonstrated their growing team ethic in coming from behind to beat Dundee 3-1 at Ibrox after playing the second half with 10 men.

Striker Amadou Bakayoko scored after just five minutes but the Light Blues responded with a strike from forward Cyriel Dessers, a penalty from skipper James Tavernier after a VAR intervention, and a header from attacker Abdallah Sima.

Gers midfielder Jose Cifuentes was sent off after another VAR prompt saw a yellow card for a foul on Bakayoko upgraded to red, a decision which will cost him his place in the Viaplay Cup final against Aberdeen next week.

The Belgian was pleased with the way his side dealt with the second half and said: “The team showed that they are a team.

“I see this dressing room growing week by week in that way. That is crucial. I know you need a really strong dressing room where everybody fights for one another, where everybody is available for the team.

“Everyone sees in the last few weeks this team sticking together in every sense. Players coming in, playing out of position and doing a job for the team.

“We played to create in the second half, not just sitting it out. If you look back, we had the best chances in the second half.

“You can also see the physical levels of the players growing. We need to get more players fit and we need to continue to work but if the mentality stays like this then we will take more points.”

On the red card incident, Clement said: “I’ve not seen the images back. Jose told me he lost the ball and wanted to win it back.

“He wanted to block the ball but the other guy is a split second faster and tackles through the ball, there’s contact.

“Jose tries to avoid it, he didn’t go through it, so I want to see things back to have a clear and good opinion so we can make an assessment in the next few days (on a possible appeal).”

Tony Docherty was far from impressed at the way the VAR check worked against his team for the penalty.

The Dundee boss said: “I’m hugely disappointed with the decision to give the penalty kick and VAR’s involvement in it.

“The image presented to Kevin Clancy favours the penalty being given but the reality is there is bustling in the box, Sima has hold of Aaron Donnelly’s shirt and Kevin Clancy deemed that to be OK.

“He then gets shown an image in a real pivotal moment of the game at 1-1.

“You need things to go for you and that one went against us.

“I’m really disappointed because we started the game really well, everything I was looking for.

“Lyall Cameron almost scores and then we score from the corner so a good start.

“Rangers come back into it with an unforced error by us then such a big decision goes against us.

“I had a conversation with Kevin Clancy and I thought he had a really good game.

“It’s difficult because we are re-refereeing games. Kevin Clancy’s positioning is good and it’s not a clear and obvious error.

“My problem with it is the image he gets shown. If I see that image I’d give a penalty kick but you need to take it into context.”

Leon Balogun is happy to have earned the trust of Philippe Clement after taking advantage of a reset under the Rangers boss.

The 35-year-old centre-back returned to Ibrox for a second spell from QPR in the summer but, under former manager Michael Beale, he featured only against Livingston and Morton and was even left out of the Europa League squad.

Clement took over from Beale in October and Balogun was handed a start in the 5-0 cinch Premiership win over Dundee on Tayside at the start of the following month.

The former Mainz, Brighton and Wigan player has played in the six domestic games since and is building a partnership with Connor Goldson as John Souttar and Ben Davies provide competition.

Balogun is pleased that he has been able to capitalise on the clean slate Clement offered the whole squad upon his Ibrox arrival.

He said: “I’m really grateful for that and it means a lot because I’ve had a tough spell being on the sidelines and it seems to be a bit of trust at least.

“I’ve been a professional now for 16 years almost so it (clean slate) doesn’t always go that way.

“You always think that way and I’ve seen it turn out completely different but I’m happy it went that way.

“But I think he’s been a breath of fresh air for everyone. Just in his ways.

“I’m sure you (the media) had one or more encounters with him so you get an idea of his persona and I think the boys take it on really well and you can see that in our performances overall.”

Rangers’ 1-0 cinch Premiership win over Hearts at Tynecastle on Wednesday night courtesy of Abdallah Sima’s 12th goal of the season kept the Light Blues eight points behind leaders Celtic having played a game fewer.

Clement has gone 11 games unbeaten since becoming Gers boss but, after disappointing draws against Aberdeen in the league and Aris Limassol in the Europa League respectively, the 2-0 win over St Mirren on Sunday keeps them on the heels of the Hoops.

“I think what you can see is there is a momentum we are creating right now,” said Balogun. “It would be foolish of us to now think, ‘okay things are just going to go our way’.

“But if I look into the dressing room I hear everybody, I hear the players on the pitch talking to each other, there’s no-one taking anything for granted.

“So we have to keep building. The way we came off the last two games (Aberdeen and Aris) where we had a set-back, slap on the neck and then came back into the games, shows you the character we’re building at the moment.”

Philippe Clement is taking nothing from the best and worst of Aberdeen as he readies his Rangers side for the trip to Pittodrie on Sunday.

The Dons, who will face off against the Ibrox men in the Viaplay Cup final at Hampden Park next month, were thrashed 6-0 at Celtic Park in the cinch Premiership immediately before the international break.

However, a comprehensive 3-1 league win against Rangers at Ibrox in September signalled the end for former Gers boss Michael Beale, with Steven Davis taking over on an interim basis before Clement arrived from Belgium.

The 49-year-old former Genk, Club Brugge and Monaco boss denied there would be extra motivation for the Ibrox side following their most recent meeting with the Granite City side.

He said:  “I don’t think it works that way. I’ve never worked that way. The past is the past and every game has its own story.

“There are other players available now on both sides. It’s an away game.

“We need to focus on ourselves. If we’d won that game 6-0 it would not have been different preparation this time.”

As for the Dons’ dismal performance at Parkhead, Clement said: “It wasn’t their best day so I think it’s not an advantage for us because you know that after a game like that, you always have a team and players who want to react to show they’re better.

“And they are better because they’ve shown these last couple of few months.”

Clement is glad to see winger Rabbi Matondo available again after being out since September with a knee injury.

The Belgian said: “He can also play central and his best period in Belgium (on loan at Cercle Brugge from Schalke 04) was as a second striker where he had a lot of freedom.

“He’s an electric player, he can eliminate fast one versus one with his dribbles, with his actions and his speed.

“So it’s someone really interesting to break open walls but of course, he comes out of an injury, he was a long time out, so we can’t expect him to get his highest level from the first minute he plays so it’ll be building with him and he can give something to the team.”

Steve Agnew admitted Aberdeen are expecting to host a different Rangers side on Sunday to the version they defeated 3-1 at Ibrox almost two months ago.

The Dons pulled off an impressive victory over the Gers on the last day of September, leading to the sacking of the Glasgow club’s boss Michael Beale two days later.

Since then Philippe Clement has taken over and overseen a seven-game unbeaten run in all competitions – including six wins – ensuring Rangers head to Pittodrie this weekend with renewed confidence.

“Obviously that was an encouraging performance and result at Ibrox but there have been changes there,” said Dons assistant Agnew on Thursday. “They’ve obviously changed the coach and results have been good since the new coach has come in.

“Rangers will be slightly different because a new coach usually changes the way he wants the team to play. We’re aware of that and we’ve analysed Rangers.

“We know it will be a tough game but we’re all really looking forward to it. We’re quietly confident. There will be a great atmosphere on Sunday and we believe we’re more than capable of getting the result we want.”

Aberdeen and Rangers meet again three weeks later in the Viaplay Cup final, but Agnew is adamant the Hampden showdown on 17 December will not come into the Dons’ thoughts this weekend.

“I think Rangers at Pittodrie, Sunday lunchtime, is as far as we look,” he said. “All our focus is on that. Anything beyond that, we really don’t look at. Sunday is just an exciting fixture that we can’t wait for.”

Sunday’s match is the first of 12 for Aberdeen in just over five weeks before they sign off for a short winter break after their trip to Ross County on 2 January. Agnew is confident the Dons – currently ninth in the league – are equipped to handle the demands of what promises to be a gruelling run.

“It is a big challenge, the number of games coming in such a short period of time,” he said. “We adapt training because of the amount of games and in the summer the club were terrific in terms of the recruitment so we have a squad in place to take us through this hectic period.

“We’re all quietly confident as a group that by the time we come through all this, we’ll be in a healthy place, whether that’s a cup final that goes well or moving up the league.”

Rangers moved clear into second place in Europa League Group C with what turned out to be a nervy 2-1 win over Sparta Prague at Ibrox.

The two sides fought out a goalless draw in the Czech Republic last month but it took only 11 minutes for Brazilian striker Danilo to get the breakthrough before midfielder Todd Cantwell added a second in the 20th minute.

The visitors smartened up after the break however, with substitute Lukas Haraslin reducing the deficit in the 77th minute and although Danilo soon had the ball in the net again it was ruled out after VAR check for a foul and in the end the home players and fans were glad to hear the final whistle.

Philippe Clement has now gone six games unbeaten since taking over as Light Blues boss and incremental improvement is clear, but they were holding on at the end.

Real Betis have nine points, Rangers have seven, Sparta Prague have four and Aris Limassol just three.

Rangers host Aris Limassol later in the month before concluding their campaign next month with a trip to Spain to face Real Betis and there is plenty still at stake.

The home side were buoyed by their commanding 3-1 Viaplay Cup semi-final win over Hearts on Sunday and Clement made one change with centre-back Ben Davies in for Leon Balogun, who, along with left-back Ridvan Yilmaz, was not included in the European squad by former boss Michael Beale.

Rangers’ first chance came in the fifth minute when a cut-back from Cantwell just missed the sliding Danilo, wearing a mask again to protect a cheekbone injury.

However, the Gers striker soon took advantage of a horror mistake by the visitors, intercepting a lazy backpass from defender James Gomez before racing through to slip the ball past keeper Peter Vindahl for his third goal in four games.

The Czech side were rattled and Vindahl soon had to make a save from a spectacular Cantwell effort.

At the other end, Rangers keeper Jack Butland tipped a header from Gomez over the bar for another corner which came to nothing, before Rangers stretched the lead.

Danilo took possession deep in the visitors’ half, moved the ball onto the right-hand side for Cantwell who turned back inside Gomez before bending a drive into the far corner for his first goal of the season and once again the home fans were celebrating.

Sparta players came together in an impromptu ring to try to sort things out but it got no better.

In the 27th minute a poor clearance from Sparta captain Asger Sorensen from an Abdallah Sima cross ended at the feet of Danilo and he smashed the outside of the post with a drive from 16 yards and 10 minutes later skipper James Tavernier came close with a 25-yard free-kick.

Gomez was having a torrid night and his slip allowed Cantwell  to run clear on to a Connor Goldson pass but his unconvincing shot was blocked by the foot of Vindahl.

There was no surprise when Gomez failed to emerge for the second half with Victor Olatunji also staying inside as Qazim Laci and Tomas Wiesner came on for Czech side who began to push Rangers back for the first time, with Laci sending a header past the post just after the hour mark.

Clement’s side could not get going and in the 69th minute Cantwell made way for  young attacker Ross McCausland to give a much-needed energy boost to the Govan side.

Still Sparta had the upper hand and Haraslin just missed the target with a shot into the ground following a corner.

Vindahl made saves from McCausland and midfielder Ryan Jack as Rangers tried to reassert themselves but they found themselves under real pressure when Haraslin played a one-two with Angelo Preciado and swept the ball into the net from 10 yards.

Danilo looked like he had immediately restored Rangers’ two-goal lead but Italian referee David Massa checked his pitch side monitor and decided that the Gers attacker had tripped Serensen to get his chance.

Butland made a fine save from Haraslin’s powerful drive as Rangers defended desperately for a valuable three points which looked like being a lot easier earned at the interval.

Jack Butland says Rangers players have bought into the new attitude to fitness at Ibrox under Philippe Clement.

Immediately after taking over as Gers boss from Michael Beale, the Belgian emphasised his desire for a much fitter and more robust squad.

Clement is unbeaten in five games and, ahead of the Europa League clash with Sparta Prague at Ibrox on Thursday night, Butland spoke openly about the changes he has witnessed.

The 30-year-old goalkeeper said: “He’s bringing everybody in. Sometimes the old ideas of running stupid distances can be a punishment to people, or feel that way.

“He’s made it clear, if people are doing extra running, it’s not as a punishment, it’s to get you up to the standard of the lads who are getting those numbers in week in week out, so when the opportunity comes he will call on those people, because we will need to over the course of the season – they are not a yard off, they’re up to standard.

“When he articulated it in that way, it’s not as if you’re running because you’re not playing or fit enough, you’re doing extra work to get to the levels we need.

“The lads are on board because that works in everyone’s favour. Those guys, it means they are ready and for the rest of the team and club, every player is ready to go when called upon.”

Butland believes Clement’s new fitness methods are part of his aspiration to simplify football at Ibrox.

The former Stoke and Crystal Palace keeper said:  “He’s simplified things, he’s made his demands obvious and not clouded.

“There’s been occasions where he wants to improve certain things and aspects, whether it be fitness or whatever, there’s been things that he’s touched on and been sure to come back and give us reasons as to why and backed up his reasons as to why he’s making us do certain things or play a certain way.

“There’s no grey area, I think the lads know what’s expected and he’s included everybody.

“It’s sort of coming together and I guess we’ve seen that in a short space of time. But the way that the manager is and the way that we are with not stopping at anything, we’ve got things that we want to achieve, a lot of work to do and that’s a conscious effort every single day to keep getting better and improve.

“We’ve come a long way I think, still a way to go, but we’re getting towards the team we want to be.”

Page 1 of 3
© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.