ONLY the churlish among us would deny Philippe Clement the praise he deserves for propelling a wayward team back on track.

The Belgian arrived in November with the Ibrox outfit displaying all the directional awareness of a blindfolded drunken sailor tasked with negotiating his way through a minefield.

They were clueless, guileless and aimless as they stumbled along under the leadership – I use the word in its loosest form – of the classless Michael Beale. The Londoner was jettisoned in the immediate aftermath of the home Premiership defeat from Aberdeen, the third loss in the league early in the campaign.

THE GREAT DIVIDE…Philippe Clement and Brendan Rodgers prepare for kick-off before Celtic’s 2-1 win at Parkhead on December 30.

Kilmarnock had beaten them in the domestic season’s kick-off at Rugby Park on August 5 and Celtic dismissed them as also-rans just under a month later in the midst of the toxic atmosphere in Govan.

Brendan Rodgers is astute enough to realise his team did not have to perform on full throttle that afternoon. Their opponents went into the encounter on the back of a 5-1 Champions League play-off second leg thrashing from PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands as they were catapulted out of Europe’s elite competition on a lopsided 7-3 aggregate score.

The Parkhead side did enough to get the derby over the line with a marvellous strike from Kyogo Furuhashi while Joe Hart, assisted ably by Liam Scales in front of him, proved to be unbeatable. Callum McGregor also played a captain’s part in the middle of the park.

The Ibrox club had been swept into the confrontation on the torrents of hot air and hullabaloo and suffered the consequences against fired-up opponents.

There was much to do for Clement when he arrived on these shores following his dismissal from AS Monaco in June, coincidentally around the time Rodgers was returning for his second stint in the east end of the city after he, too, had received his P45 after over four years at Leicester City.

ON ITS WAY…Kyogo Furuhashi’s first-time drive arrows in on its target for the only goal of the game at Ibrox on September 3.

The Belgian, unlike his brash predecessor, refused to adopt a scattergun approach with a blizzard of daft promises. Instead, he took the more studious undertaking of the challenges ahead and reminded everyone he did not possess “a little magic stick” a la Harry Potter.

On the back of three successive Belgian Pro-League titles – one with Genk and two with Brugge – he attracted the attention of AS Monaco. The last time I looked the Belgian top flight was rated eighth in the UEFA co-efficient while our own Premiership is ranked 16th.

So, without the assistance of “a little magic stick”, Clement has put his organisational skills to a good use in Govan. He has worked well with some of the dross that was brought to the club by Beale.

Credit where it is due. However, please spare me all the baloney and drivel we are now enduring about a return to the days of Fortress Ibrox, a citadel built on sand due to a fiscal sleight of hand that eventually caught up with the errant club and its owners.

Celtic players are supposed to be living in fear of stepping onto the pitch for tomorrow’s noon encounter.

ROARING SUCCESS…Brendan Rodgers yells in delight after another Celtic triumph.

I suppose the Aris Limassol team were similarly afflicted by such trepidation when they turned up for their Europa League clash and led 1-0 for most of the game before settling for a 1-1 draw?

Remember, please, this was after their 2-1 victory over their much-vaunted opponents at their 11,000-capacity Alphamega Stadium. Admittedly, though, Steven Davis was working as interim manager at the time.

Okay, how about Motherwell? Did they also overcome the jitters before their recent 2-1 triumph? And what about Benfica 23 days ago when they scuppered the travel plans of many onlookers with thoughts of descending on Dublin for the competition’s showpiece finale on May 22?

Brendan Rodgers, John Kennedy and the players will afford their city neighbours the respect they deserve as they square up for the third derby of the season.

However, I doubt very much if anyone in the away dressing room will be quivering in his boots at the prospect of performing at ‘Fortress Ibrox’.





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