MUCH has happened and a great deal has changed at Ibrox in the 23 years since Alec Cleland departed Rangers for Everton.

Yet, Cleland, who will return to his old stomping ground with St Johnstone once again for a Premiership match this Wednesday evening, can still see a fair few similarities.

The former full-back was a regular for Walter Smith’s side for three-and-a-half seasons back in the 1990s and his overlapping runs upfield helped them to score goals and complete Nine-In-A-Row.

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The 50-year-old knows that Steven Gerrard’s team, who are 23 points clear at the top of the league and certain to be crowned Scottish champions for the first time since 2011 in the coming weeks, rely heavily on their left back and right back going forward too.

He believes that dealing with the danger posed by Borna Barisic and James Tavernier down the flanks will be key to the McDiarmid Park club getting a result in midweek.

COTLAND - AUGUST 12: Borna Barisic of Rangers FC celebrates with James Tavernier after scoring his teams first goal during the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership match between Rangers and St. Johnstone at Ibrox Stadium on August 12, 2020 in Glasgow, Scotlan

COTLAND - AUGUST 12: Borna Barisic of Rangers FC celebrates with James Tavernier after scoring his team's first goal during the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership match between Rangers and St. Johnstone at Ibrox Stadium on August 12, 2020 in Glasgow, Scotlan

“When I was at Rangers it was Davie Robertson and myself in the full-back berths,” he said. “I would say that Davie and I were both attacking full-backs. We had pace and we were always encouraged to get forward.

“When you play for the Old Firm clubs you’re going to be attacking in most games. You can’t neglect your defensive responsibilities, you have to defend when that is required. But we were always asked to attack.

“I do see similarities. Dave and I didn’t score as many goals as Tavernier and Barisic have. But they do create a lot from the wide areas. That has been one of the strengths of Rangers this season – they get a lot of balls into the box from wide areas.

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“The number of assists Tavernier and Barisic have both had in the league, the cups and in Europe has been tremendous for them. It just shows how well they are playing. They are both having great seasons. That is something that we will prepare for. We know the threat they pose.”

Cleland, who has worked in a variety of different roles at McDiarmid Park since 2008 and is now a first team coach under manager Callum Davidson, appreciates that St Johnstone will have their work cut out getting a result at Ibrox.

Rangers have won all 12 of their Premiership games in Govan in the 2020/21 campaign and have conceded just one goal - in a 3-1 triumph over Motherwell in December - in the process.

However, he stressed the Perth club, who reached the Betfred Cup final with a 3-0 win over Hibernian at Hampden last month and came from 2-0 down to beat Kilmarnock 3-2 at Rugby Park on Saturday, won’t be daunted by the challenge.

DUNDEE, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 12: St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson (L) speaks to coaches Steven Maclean and Alec Cleland during the Scottish Premiership match between Dundee United and St Johnstone at Tannadice Park on January 12, 2021, in Dundee, Scotla

“Rangers’ defensive record is the result of a lot of hard work by the coaching staff and the players on the training field,” he said. “So credit to them for that. They have improved defensively from last season.

“They are the best team in Scotland just now. They are full of confidence and they aren’t conceding many goals. Their record at Ibrox is formidable. It is a big test for a team when you go there.

“But we will plan, we will prepare, we will look for little weaknesses that we can try to exploit. We certainly created chances the last time. We have created chances in both games against them. We will go there with the same mindset.

“We know we all have to be on top of our game and we have to be playing well. But we won’t be going there to park the bus. We will be defensively strong, but when we get the opportunity to attack when we have the ball we will make sure we do attack them.”

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Cleland added: “Can we exploit the wide areas if their full-backs are getting high up the park? We will look at that. But I am sure most teams try to do that. It is easier said than done.

“They have a lot of the ball and the quality they put into the box is pinpoint, accurate. They create a lot of chances off that. Rangers do pin you back a lot and you are going to have to defend for long periods. But if we can get a chance to counter attack off that we will have to take it.”

Cleland, who is remembered by Rangers fans for the header he scored against Celtic in a 2-0 victory at Parkhead in 1995 after getting on the end of an Oleg Salenko cross, feels that St Johnstone have several players who can cause Gerrard’s rearguard problems.

St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson, left, celebrates with Alec Cleland after the Betfred Cup semi-final. Photo by Ross MacDonald/SNS Group.

St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson, left, celebrates with Alec Cleland after the Betfred Cup semi-final. Photo by Ross MacDonald/SNS Group.

“It is always difficult when you go to Parkhead or Ibrox that Celtic and Rangers are going to have the majority of possession,” he said. “You need to take your chances when you get them.

“But we have got four good strikers in (Stevie) May, (Chris) Kane, (Guy) Melamed and (Callum) Hendry. We have just got Melamed fit and up to the pace of Scottish football. Guy is a very good finisher. But all the guys are competing with each other for a start.

“We are a big team too. When we get set plays Shaun Rooney, Liam Gordon, Jamie McCart, Jason Kerr, Chris Kane and Murray Davidson are a threat. We are sharing the goals through the team at the moment. Hopefully that continues on Wednesday.”