WHILE it’s likely that Rangers’ 1-1 draw at Parkhead today only prolongs Celtic’s wait for the title, the full-time mood was more glass half full than empty.

Viewed within the microcosm of this past month, opening with a 2-1 Old Firm defeat all but ending title hopes, and playing today without a recognised striker, there is still room for hope despite the loss of the league.

Of course, the belief that this squad remains on the precipice of European greatness is a driver of the atmosphere amongst supporters. Anticipation for today’s match was somewhat muted as many prepare for what they hope will be the greatest night of their Ibrox lives on Thursday.

Even still, the post-match reaction to today's game couldn't be further from the side's last league meeting. Since then, Giovanni van Bronckhorst won out at the national stadium, and guided his team within a game of Seville, all the while working with a squad limited by injury.

After Tom Rogic and Cameron Carter-Vickers earned three points at Ibrox last month, van Bronckhorst said the only option was for his team to “stand up and keep going”.

And while an inability to retain a league title is and will be considered failure, the manager's evident progress in recent weeks is decreasing his responsibility for the supposed domestic outcome.

This season, the board banked on continuity. A change in the dugout and transition of playing style, along with a reversion to the mean in regards to chance creation and concession, will end with an outcome few could have foreseen last summer. But, cup competitions and recent Old Firm ties provide evidence of a base to build from ahead of 2021/22.

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It looked for an hour of today’s encounter that, as was the case in April, the manager’s plan would be let down by poor execution in key moments. When Ryan Kent snuck in on Tony Ralston’s blindside to connect with a cross he diverted wide, whereas Jota found the net from a similar situation.

The visitors were well set to combat Celtic’s press. Allan McGregor played long with intention rather than clearing his lines in a blind panic, switches of play were a regular occurrence and Rangers often picked up the ball in areas of promise. Good decision making was blatantly absent when Fashion Sakala spearheaded a three-vs-two, James Tavernier entered the penalty box and Borna Barisic took the ball off of Kent’s toes inside the area.

Despite the hosts’ intensity and a taxing European game just 60 hours in Rangers' rearview mirror, there was no re-run of the meeting here in February. Van Bronckhorst has spoken time and again of understanding an opponent better having played them in the flesh and today’s tactical approach, as was the case at Hampden, reflected that reality.

His aggressive, man-for-man system stopped the hosts from kickstarting dangerous attacking rotations, while a direct plan in possession bypassed the press. Additionally, as is so often the case, the Dutchman made an in-game alteration that determined the course. Moving Fashion Sakala, who’d been exposed defensively as Celtic opened the scoring, central earned a point and almost three.

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The Zambian divides opinion. He can prove undeniably effective and unbelievably frustrating within a single action, but from the left his direct, punchy style returns goals at this level. A winner almost arrived after he equalised with his left foot, but when one-v-one against Joe Hart, the post got in the way.

“Of course, we’re disappointed with the draw. We knew we had to win here to close the gap to three points,” the manager said after the game.

“That’s one feeling I have, the other feeling is that I’m really proud of our performance. I couldn’t ask more from my players to what they gave today.

“The chances we had were big chances but you have to score them. We had moments in this game where we could get more than one point.”

When the direction of this season’s Premiership became clear, the two remaining Old Firm games didn’t lose an ounce of significance. This group of players needed to show they had the credentials to reclaim their crown and the manager required performances that earned the trust of supporters. 

With some summer additions, particularly those who can turn attacking opportunity into reality, there is a clear template for success.