THERE are many reasons why Celtic are six points ahead of Rangers at the top of the cinch Premiership table with five games remaining and in a strong position to reclaim the Scottish title next month.

For a start, the Parkhead club made an inspired move when they brought in the hitherto little-known Ange Postecoglou as their new manager in June. The experienced Greek-Australian quickly got his team playing attractive attacking football, resurrected their on-field fortunes and lifted the spirits of a demoralised support.

They have also lavished just shy of £25m in the transfer market and the majority of their loan and permanent signings have, unlike last season, flourished. Joe Hart, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Jota, Josip Juranovic, Reo Hatate, Liel Abada, Daizen Maeda, Kyogo Furuhashi and Giorgos Giakoumakis have been excellent and are now firm fans’ favourites.  

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At the same time, the defending Scottish champions have failed, on the domestic front at least, to build on last term.

Key players, the likes of Borna Barisic, Connor Goldson, Ryan Kent and Allan McGregor, have been unable to reproduce the same sort of form they showed in the 2020/21 campaign on a consistent basis. Points have been thrown away and the last two Old Firm matches lost as a result.

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The Ibrox hierarchy, too, spent next to nothing strengthening the first team squad and those new players who did join, with the exception of John Lundstram, have been unable to make a significant impression.  

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Steven Gerrard bemoaned the fact that he had not received “a penny” in two windows and stated that “big money” had to be spent following a Europa League defeat to Sparta Prague away in October. He departed for Aston Villa the following month. 

But there has been another major factor in the title race which should not be overlooked either.

When current Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst was asked following his side’s 2-1 home defeat to their city rivals at the start of this month why there had been a 12 point swing in the league since play resumed after the winter break back in January, he said: “We had some decisions not go in our favour.”

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Big calls have certainly gone against the Govan club in the Premiership this year and undermined their efforts.

In the 1-1 draw with Dundee United at Tannadice back in February, referee Bobby Madden and his assistants failed to spot a pull on Fashion Sakala by Ross Graham yards in front of goal just as he was poised to volley home.

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In the 2-2 draw with Motherwell at Ibrox the following week, an Alfredo Morelos goal was disallowed by Don Robertson for offside even though Bevis Mugabi was playing the striker on.

And in that narrow loss to Celtic a fortnight ago, Willie Collum should have taken action when Carter-Vickers tugged the shirt of Goldson in the visitors’ area at a James Tavernier corner kick.

Kenny Miller, the former Rangers, Celtic and Scotland forward, was in no doubt the latter incident merited a spot kick when he appeared on the BBC Sportscene programme later that night. “That is a stonewall penalty,” he said. “Connor Goldson is trying to adjust to the flight of the ball and his movement is impeded.”

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It is, of course, far easier to make the right call hours after the event. I was at both Tannadice and Ibrox, saw the Sakala and Goldson flashpoints and suspected at the time that both Madden and Collum had probably been correct. Match officials in this country do not have the luxury of watching back replays from numerous different angles and have to make a judgement in the blink of an eye.

Still, if VAR had been in use at those three games then two costly draws and a damaging defeat could easily, given Tavernier’s prowess from 12 yards out, have been turned into two victories and a draw and Rangers would be five points better off and a point ahead at the top of the table.

That is a perhaps an overly simplistic assessment. The late great Walter Smith always used to maintain that decisions evened themselves out over the course of a season and he was right. For every injustice his beloved club have suffered in the past 10 months they have probably enjoyed a lucky break. The same goes for the leaders.

No reasonable observer could deny that Celtic deserve to be in first place and on the verge of glory or argue that Rangers merit being in front at this stage given how Postecoglou’s side and Van Bronckhorst’s team have acquitted themselves respectively in the top flight during the past nine months.

Nevertheless, wrong rulings have certainly been made in important matches and the Rangers players, manager, officials and supporters will have every right to feel aggrieved if they are pipped to the Premiership and a possible place in the Champions League group stages.

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It is vital the SPFL clubs vote in favour of bringing in VAR, and not just a cheap watered-down version of it either, on Tuesday. Yes, the technology is expensive and funds are in short supply in these challenging times. But in the modern age, when spectators can review passages of play on their smart phones within seconds and referees are under intolerable pressure because of the disadvantage they are at, it is a must.

The integrity of the Premiership is at risk without it.