Some moments in football feel heavier than others. Watching on as injury-time edged closer and Hearts came within minutes of inflicting a defeat at Ibrox early in Philippe Clement’s tenure, a weighty one was coming up.

By turning that loss to a dramatic victory, Rangers breathed life into a league season that would’ve otherwise died just after the clocks clicked back. In navigating that win Clement instilled a belief that such moments were possible. Since then the steely determination shown by the Belgian in the blue room on day one has translated into the stands and a season which looked unlikely to yield any trophies could yet return three pieces of silver.

Then seven points behind, if Rangers do their part over the next five days they can go five points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership. A sentence that felt as impossible as it was improbable back on that day in the autumn. There has been a mentality shift that Sunday will prove a true barometer of. Because in the last year, it’s been mentality and moments that’ve betrayed Rangers in Old Firms - that’s what must turn on Sunday.

Not since a Scottish Cup Semi-Final win under Giovanni van Bronckhorst in April 2022 have the Ibrox side come out on top in a meaningful Old Firm. Not since a Fil Helander winner under Steven Gerrard in September 2021 have they won a league match with the outcome of the title undecided. Rangers have won just one of the last nine Old Firm fixtures having gone unbeaten in eight before.

They’ve come close and tight games have not been exclusive to Clement’s debut in the fixture. Under Michael Beale against the strongest side from the East End in years more than one game was decided by a moment. The 2-2 draw at the start of 2023 required a late Kyogo equaliser, Rangers should’ve got more from a Scottish Cup semi-final defeat in which Fashion Sakala missed an open goal, two defensive errors led to a 3-2 defeat away from home late in the 2022/23 campaign. 

Celtic came out on top in five of the seven Old Firm derbies in 2023 while only creating a higher xG in one of those fixtures. This does not show that they didn’t deserve to dominate the results but what it does indicate is that, even when Ange Postecoglou’s superior side were at the other end, games have been very close and decided by small margins. Margins that Celtic have consistently provided.

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Rangers have lacked difference-makers. Kyogo, even when out of form, scored seven goals in 2023 Old Firms. In contrast, Rangers’ highest scorer in the fixture throughout 2023 was Tavernier with three strikes. Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent were shadows of their former selves under Beale. The image of Sam Lammers dancing through on goal before missing after rounding the keeper or Cyriel Dessers failing to release the ball when faced up by Joe Hart are cutting in contrast to the goals scored by Celtic’s No.8.

Clement spoke with his usual blend of intensity and assurance during yesterday’s press duties. A six-pointer, he said, but not definitive. A big game, yes, but don’t forget there’s another to come with plenty more scope for dropped points in between. Both he and Connor Goldson came up with similar answers when quizzed on what needed to be different this time around.

“It is always a big game, it is a six-point game. That we know. We have another one in a few weeks also in that way. It is not yet a decisive game so whoever wins is not the champion. It is not like that,” Clement said.

When asked to reflect on what split the sides back in December? “That we didn’t grab the moments and they did.”

“I think they have both been won in moments,” was Goldson’s summary of this season’s meetings with Celtic.

And asked whether this run change the psychology of the title race, Clement added: “On my team not. No. Don’t forget this, there are still a lot of games to play, not only the two Old Firm games. Also many other games.”

There are big tactical questions. Generally in this fixture over the past year or two Celtic have tended to press aggressively while Rangers have built their attacks directly. Will there be more consideration in methods of ball progression and how can Mohamed Diomande aid that? Can Todd Cantwell win the battle against Callum McGregor? If Ridvan doesn’t make the game from the start how do Rangers compensate for his absence and stay compact behind the ball?

It seems unlikely that Clement opts for a conservative midfield selection to ‘shut down’ Celtic's. Even when playing away from home in Europe that has not been the case. The Belgian manager is not the type to sit back behind the ball. Dujon Sterling will have a big part to play and that role will likely start from the right wing.

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Alongside improving the product on the park to achieve results Clement has harnessed the support, repaired the synergy between the players and stands and overseen the development of a mentality that’s been absent in too many domestic moments over recent years.

We’re so focused on the philosophies and tactical beliefs a new manager holds that their qualities as a leader can pass us by. A player will benefit from positional tweaks that complement their qualities, but how many gains and margins can be pushed when a certain individual is in the dugout? These past few months would suggest quite a lot. 

“I had a job in my first few months here to get that mentality into the players’ heads. But now I don’t have that job anymore because they know,” Clement explained after last weekend’s 3-1 win over Hibs, reflecting on the physiological uptick he's overseen.

Rangers haven’t held the upper hand in key moments of this fixture, nor the upper hand in a mental battle since losing the domestic high ground in the winter of 2022. Tomorrow, Clement knows both of those factors must change to make a big statement. 

Failing to win may not be definitive in the Belgian’s eyes. Managing to will make a statement throughout the city.