WITH all due respect to all the teams that competed manfully at the weekend, the first real crunch match of the new Scottish Premiership season will take place this Saturday coming at Ibrox Park when Hibs travel to take on Rangers.

The first round of games told us nothing much, except that Celtic seem to have begun where they left off last season, and Rangers’ defence isn’t entirely sound – a better side than Motherwell might have made them pay for defensive lapses.

We also found out that Hibs under Neil Lennon are not a side to be deflated even when they go behind to an early goal. They played a lot of good football against Partick Thistle and thoroughly deserved to run out 3-1 winners.

Loading article content

The Edinburgh side then added a comprehensive 5-0 thrashing of Ayr United to their seasonal start in the Scottish League Cup Second Round, and the return of Anthony Stokes made them look very good up front.

Neil Lennon knows all about the challenge his side face on Saturday and there were some wise words from him about ignoring all the hype.

Yet nobody can just set it aside – this is a biggie, the first of the season, because it features two teams who may genuinely rival each other for a place in European competition by the end of the season. Yes, that’s how good Hibs look, and Rangers are getting it together.

Lennon has Hibs organised at the back, competitive in midfield and scoring goals up front, albeit the Ayr United defence were at sixes and sevens on Tuesday.

He has also imbued the Easter Road side with his own competitive desire. He always wants to win, and some of that is certainly rubbing off on the Hibs players who may yet be joined by Kris Commons in their return to the top flight.

For the home side on Saturday, the stakes could hardly be higher. Even the most diehard Rangers fans must accept that their team is going through a gigantic transitional phase, and Pedro Caixinha has rung the changes to some effect. But will they gel, especially in defence?

This column predicted that Graeme Dorrans might prove the Portuguese manager’s best signing, and he was outstanding against Motherwell. So, too, was Josh Windass, despite an error that might have given the home side a goal. He could be just the sort of player that Caixinha can improve and he should be given the time to make his case.

Rangers also showed some serious heart against Motherwell, a quality that was too often missing last season. Maybe this motley crew of incomers is welding together, inspired by Bruno Alves and by Dorrans’ badge-kissing heart-on-his sleeve commitment to the club he has loved since boyhood.

It should be noted this column was penned before Rangers took on Dunfermline Athletic in the League Cup last night, so that could all be nonsense...

Interestingly, the Premiership table as it stands has the top four as Celtic, Hibs, Aberdeen and Rangers – that was the Kickers’ prediction of the top four come May, though not perhaps in that order.