Former Celtic defender Alan Stubbs has challenged the Parkhead dressing room to show unity and spirit as they seek to close a burgeoning gap on Rangers. 

Stubbs, part of the Celtic side who stopped Rangers making history with a tenth successive title in 1998, believes the current side can still write their name into club folklore but has warned that they need to get their house in order. 

Celtic came back from two goals down at Easter Road at the weekend to take a point with a last-minute leveller but it enabled Rangers to stretch their lead at the top of the table to 11 points, having played two games more than Neil Lennon’s side.  

On Thursday the Parkhead side play Sparta Prague in the Europa League as they try to atone for a woefully insipid showing against them earlier this month at Celtic Park and while an adverse result will do little to dissipate the pressure around Lennon, the priority is on domestic matters. On that front Celtic’s run between now and the end of the year doesn’t have them travelling further than Hamilton as they look to utilise any benefit that will come on home soil.  

For Stubbs, this week is about home truths as Celtic look to get their season back on track. 

“We have all heard the stories and gossip about players maybe wanting to go and there being a bit of disharmony around the club,” said Stubbs. “I think if it was me I would be pulling players in and having a full and frank conversation. You can promise the move in January or in the summer but you need them to get their heads down and get their focus on what is going on at the minute. You can’t let things fester and linger. 

“Odsonne Edouard is an exceptional striker. Kris Ajer is a defender that attracted a lot of attention this summer and I am sure there will have been other players who were wanted elsewhere too. The one thing that is inevitable in football is that if you are playing well, you are moving on. It doesn’t go unnoticed when you are turning it on every week. But this is the time now for these players to go and show their professionalism. Players do play for themselves. There is always self-interest but there is a much bigger picture here.

“It is not too late to win the league. There is a long way to go yet. But there needs to be a clearing of the air. And that doesn’t always have to come from the manager. It can be the players themselves who get together and get it out into the open. This is the season when they can do something that they will be remembered and revered for a long time if they deliver a tenth title. But the flipside of that is there as well.” 

Stubbs scored a last minute leveller against Rangers back in November 1997 at Celtic Park, a game which left Celtic five points behind the Ibrox side with both having played 13 games.  Wim Jansen’s side would go on and win the league, preventing Rangers from an historic ten. The tables have turned with Stubbs accepting that there are significant parallels to be drawn from both eras. 

“There are a lot of similarities,” he said. “Back then, on paper Rangers were the better team, probably by a distance. Right now I would still say Celtic are a better team than Rangers on paper, albeit that the gap has narrowed. Rangers are riding high and you would far rather be in their position than where Celtic are but if you can stick with it until January then you have a chance. 

“Get to January and you can reinvigorate the squad and if there are players who don’t want to be at the club then you can let them go. But realistically Celtic cannot afford to drop points between now and then.” 

Social media can be a bilious environment at the best of times but there has been an amplification of the noise around Lennon since the Ferencvaros defeat in the Champions League qualifiers. There is an argument to be made that both Lennon and Celtic would have felt the benefit of a full stadium this term in such trying circumstances. That dissenting voices would be heard is irrefutable but equally there is also a support mechanism that comes with the energy and surge of a crowd. 

“I think Neil deserves a bit more respect,” said Stubbs. “He will be fully aware of the feeling of the fans at the minute. He’s not soft. Keyboard warriors are always strong in front of a screen and I think when you don’t have fans inside the stadium then you have a lot of people just echoing what they hear on twitter or other social media platforms.  

“Celtic are in the unfamiliar position here because they are chasing ground. The big difference is how well Rangers are playing. They look solid and although they have not won anything yet, everyone would agree that the gap in quality has lessened. But it is up to Celtic now to regroup and put Rangers in the position where they feel them breathing down the back of their necks.  

“That’s when you get jittery, as we have seen with Celtic. You lose a goal in a game then and you are worrying about the table and how far off it leaves you.  

“This last decade we have seen so much of Celtic and their will to win. They have been relentless at times. But now the chips are down, let’s see what they have got and what they are made of. And a lot of that comes down to the players and getting their heads where they need to be.”