New Year Hangover gone - January is a crucial month.

Last updated : 07 January 2010 By Northampton Loyalist

Rangers travel to Hamilton on the 16th of January needing, above all else, a return to the swash-buckling style seen before the Ne'er day fixture.

The visit to Parkhead was always going to test the mettle of a Rangers side who had dominated the month of December in truly championship winning style. The cliché states that form, and to a lesser degree ability, go out of the window when predicting the results of the Glasgow clash and on the whole it is a truism. Rangers were in a far richer goal-scoring vein than Celtic and the defences were incomparable in their generosity but the loss of Miller, Bougherra and Beasley removed both potent attacking options and a steadfast defender. Sides and individual players have crumbled in the heat of Old Firm battle but the Rangers side that went onto the pitch stood up to be counted and earned a very creditable draw to retain a 7 point advantage in the league. While far from pretty the Rangers performance showed a side of the team that we have, thankfully, only rarely had to watch in recent times; Steely determination.

Destroying teams is good, better than good, but if when the tough games come around you crumble, regardless of excuse, they count for very little. A victory for Celtic in this game would have seen the league deficit cut to four with the prospect of Rangers' lead, despite a fantastic month of December, could have been reduced to a single point with 90 minutes of football. The loss of key players before and during the match made an already tricky game more difficult and the fact that Rangers came through the tussle with only rare frights speaks volumes about the new-found confidence down Ibrox way: furthermore, the fact that Rangers answered back from a Celtic goal is a true measure of a title winning team.

With 13 days between the Old Firm game and Rangers next outing at New Douglas park there is plenty of time for niggles to be worked through and injured players to recover. The team that travels to South Lanarkshire must take the manner of performance shown against Celtic and put it firmly behind them. A swift return to the form of December is needed to maximise the sides chances of retaining the SPL title.

January could be a difficult month off the park for Rangers. As well as daily rumours linking in-form striker Boyd with whichever club a journalist fancies the current financial climate has Rangers portrayed as needing to sell any number of players to help balance the books. These rumours should have been shelved after new chairman Alastair Johnston's unambiguous statement that no-one need be sold this window but the fact remains that with Rangers in debt to the tune of £31 million sizeable bids will be hard to turn down and an already strained squad could feasibly be cut further. Tony Mowbray has hardly set the west of Scotland alight with his signings to date but in light of the recent draw and poor overall performances domestically and abroad there is a very real chance that the Celtic board will be forced into further spending in a bid to halt declining gates and a faltering 'must win' title challenge. If Celtic spend significantly this window and Rangers lose a key player or two, the eleven on the park will need to be playing at their absolute peak in the coming months.

I wrote in a pre-season article that Rangers needed to open up a lead in the championship before Christmas as options for boosting a failing challenge would be severely hampered by the lack of revenue. That lead did not look like materializing until late in the year but now it is here, however slight it may be, Rangers need to take full advantage. The next run of games sees a visit to Ibrox of Hearts as probably the most difficult tie and there is a good possibility of maximum points from January's remaining fixtures. For the pre-Christmas confidence and results to amount to anything the same devastating form must be found and that begins at Hamilton.

With a trip to St. Mirren and a home tie against Falkirk making up the balance of fixtures for the month a difficult period off the park could realistically be the month that helps win the title. Celtic are in trouble, not that you would know it reading the Scottish papers, because they spent more money than they had in the summer on a manager and his staff and followed it up by spending more again on some distinctly average players. A run of Rangers wins would see ever increasing pressure on the new Celtic manager and performances in the mould of December's run will have the Parkhead hordes questioning how exactly a flat-broke side in transition can out-perform a club claiming a healthy balance sheet, over the course of a season. The draww ill have hurt Celtic; they will point to a disallowed goal and a challenge by Lafferty and claim (very clearly inaccurately) that they were hard done by but the fact will remain in the back of their minds that a squad already small and reduced further, owned by a club in financial limbo, proved too much for them to defeat. If Rangers can regain previous form then real and tangible damage could be done to their title bid without having faced the lesser Glaswegians.

The loss of Bougherra is obviously a concern, his marauding runs are the icing on what is an already very tasty cake and his absence will be felt. Wilson is a young boy and he will make the odd mistake but I feel that he has already shown enough this term for the Rangers support to have a little belief in his ability to fill the Algerians boots. The return of Edu is a welcome one and gives us a few more options in the middle of the park. Mendes, too, will make a comeback this month and his recovery could be pivotal in the title's destination, he is clearly one of the best players in the country and his reintroduction to the side can only be viewed as a positive. The strike force of Miller and Boyd must be kept together and supplied, they have proven they are our best option up front (by a proverbial mile) and the forthcoming fixtures are of the type that should see both flourish, especially when assisted by fast midfielders willing and able to support as well as supply.

A demolition job is perhaps being greedy, but a confident attacking performance against Hamilton is needed to ramp up the pressure on our rivals and maintain the advantage gained with some fantastic results. There will be plenty of twists and turns left this season, but by starting the next run of games as we mean to go on, we can virtually guarantee that our path will be the smoothest of all the contenders.