ALISTAIR Johnston has responded to claims by Philippe Clement that the gap between Rangers and Celtic is not that great and revealed the crucial factor which he believes has given the Parkhead club an edge over their nearest challengers this term.

Clement stated on Monday that the only difference between the two Glasgow clubs this term has been the squad members he has been missing due to long-term knocks.

However, the Scottish champions have had to play without Cameron Carter-Vickers, Reo Hatate and Callum McGregor during the 2023/24 campaign and they are on the verge of a league and cup double.

Johnston has attributed Celtic’s success this season to their ability to deal with the loss of key personnel as he praised the Parkhead club’s fringe players for how they have risen to the challenge they have faced.

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“The table is pretty tight so I don’t think that’s a far-fetched idea,” he said. “I do think that they’re a team that obviously causes some issues. But, at the same time, I think our results speak for themselves as well. We feel quite confident whenever we play them.

“I bet they feel confident whenever they play us. That’s perfectly fine. I do think that you want your rivals to be good, that raises the level of everyone’s game.

“At the same time, when it comes down to those big matches that is when the big players need to come up and show what they are about. That is what we saw at the weekend again – the Callum McGregors stepping up and playing at a level that not many other players can even get close to.

The Herald: Rangers manager Philippe Clement in the dugout at Parkhead on Saturday“I think we have players who can reach that. Whatever the gap is, it doesn’t really matter. That is just noise to us. We feel confident in our group no matter who we are playing.

“We are so blessed with this team. We can bring in a James Forrest, who maybe hasn’t featured as much as he would have liked to or expected to this year. But he can come in for the run-in. This is a guy who has won a ton of trophies. He has only won 22! That is plenty! 

“When you can rely on a guy like that to come and give you a six game stretch it is great. He has shown his quality. He is made for those big games. It fills you with confidence when you look around and you have him, Callum, Joe (Hart), guys like that.

“If you don’t feel confident with them in your locker room I don’t know what to tell you. It does help when you go into those big games when you have got players you know are not only going to step up, but really know how to get the job done in those kind of games."

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Johnston added: "I think that we’re lucky. It’s not very often that you come to the final stretch of the season and have all your players. But this is probably the healthiest we have been all year.

“No, we have definitely had some key players who have been in and out of the line-up constantly with little things that have been nagging them and other things which were more major.

“But that is part of the sport, you have got to be prepared for that. That is part of the thing about playing in multiple competitions on multiple fronts – there are going to be lots of games and that is why the big teams need to have big squads.

“When you are competing on multiple fronts you have to be able to rotate or if somebody goes down you have one who is ready to come up and take their opportunity. I think we have have a couple of players who have done exactly that. Like Liam Scales, from the first minute of the season.

“It is important that everyone is ready to play and I think we have shown that this season It has maybe been more of a happening than in previous years, with guys needing to step up.

“But I think that is an opportunity. Any time you have a chance on the pitch it is a chance to show you belong here because it is a really competitive club and everyone wants to play, but unfortunately only 11 guys can.”