WITH no fewer than eight cinch Premiership games, including an Old Firm match, to be played and a total of 24 points up for grabs, the festive period will be crucial to the Scottish title ambitions of both Celtic and Rangers.

The defending champions can retain and possibly even extend their lead at the top of the league table if they negotiate their hectic schedule well in the coming weeks. Any slip-ups, though, will allow their nearest challengers to pull nearer to and maybe even overtake them.

At the same time, their city rivals must do their utmost to pick up maximum points between now and the winter break and keep the pressure on. There is little if any margin for error for either team.

Callum McGregor, the Celtic captain and midfielder, has won the Premiership six times in his career and knows that winning all of their December fixtures and the second Glasgow derby of the season at the start of January will increase his side’s chances of lifting the trophy come May.   

“This is a really important time,” he said at the weekend. “This is always a part of the season we look at. If we can go really strong between now and the break then hopefully we will be in a good position.”

But what happens in Govan and the East End during the transfer window next month is likely to have just as much of a bearing on who prevails as the forthcoming fixtures.

Ange Postecoglou admitted that he needs to strengthen his squad further if Celtic are to compete with the cream of the continent in the future after the Europa League defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in Germany on Thursday evening ended their hopes of reaching the knockout rounds.

The visitors had fought back well after falling behind early on in the BayArena and had led 2-1 with eight minutes remaining thanks to strikes from Josip Juranovic and Jota. But their performance level dropped when their manager made four late substitutions and they conceded two late goals. More quality is clearly required.

If Postecoglou succeeds in bringing in some new acquisitions - and Reo Hatate, the versatile Kawasaki Frontale player, is poised to agree a deal – then it will help them to progress further when they drop into the Conference League.

But new arrivals will also give Celtic, who edged to a narrow 2-1 triumph over Aberdeen at home yesterday, a boost domestically too. There is nothing like a couple of new signings to lift a squad and keep those individuals in possession of a first team jersey sharp and hungry.  

Will Rangers, who beat Livingston 3-1 away, improve their prospects of retaining the Scottish title and qualifying for the group stages of the Champions League next term by giving Giovanni van Bronckhorst money to spend in January? That remains to be seen. 

Ross Wilson, the Ibrox club’s sporting director, stated that directors would consider moving for any target who Van Bronckhorst was interested in bringing in when the Dutchman was unveiled last week and stressed there was no need for him to offload anyone either.

Rangers have rebuffed numerous lucrative offers in the past couple of seasons and should, barring a ridiculous offer, look to cash in on one or two of their prized assets in the summer. But is a club that posted losses of £23.5m in the last financial year going to speculate to accumulate and spend a seven figure sum halfway through the season? It will be a surprise if any significant business is carried out.

As Steven Gerrard pointed out after the Europa League defeat to Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic at the start of last month, in the last two windows they “haven’t spent a penny”. 

His successor, who has overseen victories over Sparta and Livingston since starting his new job on Monday, has a large and talented squad and should have more than enough at his disposal to win the Premiership.

However, adding a new centre half would certainly give Rangers a timely lift at a crucial juncture in a Scottish title race that promises to go right down to the wire.



Another start for Billy Gilmour, another Man of the Match award, another Norwich City result, another step towards Premier League safety.

Daniel Farke’s decision to freeze Gilmour out of his side at Carrow Road this season is looking worse with every passing day.

Farke’s replacement Dean Smith has restored the Scot to the starting line-up and been rewarded with a win over Southampton and a draw against Wolves.

The Championship champions have much work to do to stave off the threat of relegation; they remain just three points above bottom-placed Newcastle United.

But with Chelsea loanee Gilmour back in favour and performing well in the middle of the park, their supporters have reason to be optimistic for the future.

As do Scotland fans. The 20-year-old was exceptional for the national team during the five game winning run that secured a Qatar 2022 play-off place and a semi-final seeding.

The Tartan Army can look ahead to the meeting with Ukraine at Hampden in March with confidence if the midfielder stays fit, remains involved at Norwich and maintains his current form.