CELTIC and Rangers fans celebrated the news that capacity crowds would be allowed in to Parkhead and Ibrox for their European qualifiers against Jablonec and Malmo this week as if their team had just scored an injury-time winner in an Old Firm derby.

And no wonder. Having full houses in attendance will increase the Glasgow clubs’ chances of recording important victories and moving closer to the group stages of the Europa League and Champions League.

The mass reopening of the turnstiles is, too, a significant step on the long road back to normality after 16 challenging months which have been blighted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Not being able to cheer on their heroes from the stands since the coronavirus outbreak in March last year has been tortuous – for followers of the on-form Govan outfit especially – and they will enjoy being part of a sell-out once again greatly. 

Fulfilling fixtures behind closed doors last term was far better than no football being played at all. There were some entertaining and enjoyable encounters. But it just was not the same for season ticket holders watching the action unfold on television at home. At times, matches played out in vast empty arenas were downright soulless and joyless affairs.

It is to be hoped the Jablonec and Malmo games go well both on and off the park and a precedent is set for the remainder of the 2021/22 campaign.

Yet, could the return of supporters to grounds in large numbers have a detrimental impact on Rangers’ bid to retain the cinch Premiership trophy in the months ahead? Will it help Celtic in their attempt to reclaim the Scottish title? It will certainly add an interesting dynamic to proceedings. 

Steven Gerrard’s men were immense in defence, midfield and attack last season. They won the top flight for the first time in 10 years by a whopping 25 point margin. They scored 92 goals and conceded just 13. They didn’t lose any of their 38 games.  

But it was suggested by some cynics, of whom there are a few in this country, that the absence of spectators from stadiums aided their cause considerably despite the quality of their displays.

The accusation stemmed from the difficulties they had frequently encountered against lesser opposition both home and away previously and the needless points they had dropped as a consequence - not to mention the controversial comments of their captain James Tavernier in his programme notes just before lockdown.

"Whenever anybody puts a bit of pressure on us in Scotland or gets in our face it seems to affect us too much,” he wrote before a Premiership game against Hamilton at Ibrox in March last year. 

“At the start of the season teams dropped off us and we were scoring four or five goals, but now they smell blood straight away and put us under pressure. We are not good enough to react to that.”

His remarks, which were made before a humiliating 1-0 home defeat that saw Rangers slip 13 points behind leaders Celtic with 10 games remaining, were not well received by livid Rangers fans.

But Tavernier had a point. On countless occasions the right back and his team mates had failed to deal with domestic adversaries who managed to get on the front foot against them. They retreated into their shells and capitulated when they received flak rather when they should have responded positively and raised their games. It was a failing they needed to address if they were to be successful.

Rangers have brought in numerous new players and improved since. But the game against Dundee United at Tannadice on Saturday was the first they had played in front of a sizeable away support in the Premiership in 16 months. Their 40 match unbeaten run came to an end with a 1-0 defeat.

It is early in the season, key players are missing, they are lacking match sharpness and fitness. There is no need for them to panic. Still, the result at the weekend has raised valid questions about whether they have the bottle to cope when they are up against it and can grind out vital wins in adversity domestically.     

Rangers exhibited tremendous character to come from two goals down with little over 20 minutes remaining and beat Braga of Portugal 3-2 in an exhilarating Europa League last 32 match in front of 49,738 back in March 2020.

They had also triumphed 2-1 over Celtic at Parkhead a few months earlier despite the vast majority of the 58,902 in attendance roaring on their hosts and creating a hostile and intimidating environment. 

However, Rangers have to show they have the resolve that is required to overcome the likes of Dundee, Hearts, Motherwell and St Johnstone in matches they are expected to win and win comfortably when they are not at their very best and abuse is being aimed in their direction if they are to build on their momentous Premiership success.

Winning a game like the one against United at Tayside on Saturday is as important to them as prevailing in the meeting with Celtic at Ibrox at the end of this month.