Football Features

From ‘worse than Karius’ to ‘better than Banks’, Allan McGregor is rolling back to years ahead of Celtic vs Rangers

By Ben Green

Published: 11:19, 20 March 2021 | Updated: 10:22, 25 March 2021

After a decade of heartache and Celtic dominance, Rangers claimed their 55th Scottish top flight title earlier this month, breaking the Parkhead monopoly and raising an interesting debate ahead of this weekend’s Old Firm derby.

Two seasons ago, Rangers decided against giving the newly-crowned champions Celtic a guard of honour at Ibrox, and so, the focus now shifts to the East End of Glasgow and whether The Bhoys will reciprocate the shun or embrace the token gesture.

It’s a subplot that holds little weight in the grand schemes of things and one that is unlikely to faze Steven Gerrard, whichever way the pendulum swings. What does matter to Gerrard, though, will be ensuring complacency doesn’t creep in ahead of the Old Firm and finishing the season as strongly as possible.

It’s been an historic year for The Gers, who ended a decade-long wait for Scottish Premiership glory earlier this month, their first top-flight title since financial ruin jeopardised the club’s existence in 2012 and sent them plummeting to the fourth tier.

Their first match as champions will be the third Old Firm derby of the season, a fixture that will always echo past dramas, with Gerrard and his side travelling to the hostile gauntlet of Celtic Park, to clash with incumbent coach John Kennedy, who stepped in after Neil Lennon’s departure last month.

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There have been plenty of standout performers for Rangers this season; James Tavernier has been the playmaker extraordinaire at right-back, Alfredo Morelos the rough-hewn goalscoring fiend, Ryan Kent the jet-heeled winger-cum-forward, and of course, Allan McGregor, the ageless goalkeeper rolling back the years.

At 39, McGregor remains a prominent fixture between the sticks at Ibrox, returning for his second tour of duty in 2018 after initially upping sticks when Rangers took a nosedive down the Scottish pyramid. Since returning to familiar pastures, the Rangers goal has lived a particularly charmed life.

This season, the club have conceded just nine goals in the Scottish Premiership, keeping an eye-watering 24 clean sheets in just 32 games. Couple that with their 77 goals scored, and Gerrard’s side have a quite ridiculous positive 68 goal difference. Or, put another way, the same number of points as Celtic (68).

Gerrard has created a well-oiled, stubborn and watertight defence that has seen them travel far both domestically, and in Europe, and McGregor has underpinned the resilience. His recent save in the first leg of Rangers’ round-of-32 defeat to Slavia Prague was the magnum opus of the campaign, a moment of pure inspiration.

With the clock ticking down at the Eden Arena, a thumping Lukas Masopust header looked destined to breach the net, but McGregor, deft-fingered and spring-heeled, reacted superbly to swoop down and claw away the goal-bound header, leading to praise from both dugouts after the game.

Slavia head coach Jindrich Trpisovsky led the eulogies in the aftermath, calling McGregor a “genius” and comparing the acrobatic stop to Gordon Banks’ iconic save for England against Brazil’s Pele in 1970.

“I don’t remember such a genius save – it was outstanding,” Trpisovsky said.

“And I would say it is even better than the legendary save of Gordon Banks. I would say that the header was a really good hit and the field was wet, but McGregor just had it by a pinkie.”

Trpisovsky was not the only coach in a particularly effusive mood, with Gerrard also eager to talk up his imperious shot-stopper, branding the save “world-class”.

“I thought there were a few big, pivotal moments in the game and opportunities for both sides to get the winner,” said Gerrard.

“Allan has come big for us again and it is a top, top save to get it back and drag it back into his grasp. It was another world-class save.”

It’s quite the praise for a player who was once dubbed Besiktas’ worst ‘keeper in the last 20 years, pipping Loris Karius to that particular wooden spoon. Indeed, McGregor rarely does half measures. If he’s not Besiktas’ butter-fingered culprit, then he’s comparable with England immortal Gordon Banks. There seems to be no in-between.

While Gerrard may have ushered in a new dawn at Ibrox, McGregor remains an evocative figure of past glories, manning the sticks when Rangers last lifted the league title before their infamous financial demise, keeping 22 cleans sheets as Walter Smith’s side sealed the trophy in 2010/11.

He saved a Georgios Samaras penalty in a tense Old Firm stalemate in April that season less than 10 minutes from time. The 0-0 ensured Celtic didn’t walk away with bragging rights on the day, but more importantly, The Gers went on to win the title by just a single point.

So, McGregor is a Rangers legend in every sense of the word. He will turn 40 next campaign and his contract expires this summer, but Gerrard has continually stressed his desire to retain the services of his veteran ‘keeper.

“I’ve spoken about it before, how much we rate Allan,” said Gerrard. “How much we love him here, how much we want him to carry on. At the same time, I will respect him.

“He knows what’s on the table. He’s in discussions with the club and, from where I’m sitting, I just hope we get it over the line and sign him up for another year because he is more than capable.

“I know that on a daily basis by working with him and watching him closely. The decision is going to be down to Allan, not us. Because we certainly want him.”

If his future remains a source of debate, his status as an iconic Rangers figure certainly does not, and more than any, he will be licking his lips and relishing this latest installation of the Old Firm, with Rangers finally taking to Parkhead back at the top of the Scottish podium.