WHEN is a title race not a title race? And when has an interim Rangers manager proved himself enough to be told the job on a permanent basis? These where the predictable questions fielded by Stuart McCall yesterday, a man armed with more first-hand experience of what Graeme Murty is going through right now than most.

McCall – whose hopes of making the interim post at Ibrox into a permanent one were torpedoed by a play-off loss to his former club Motherwell – was ostensibly speaking to the media to run the rule over this weekend’s William Hill Scottish Cup ties involving his former teams, but there was only one topic of the day. Not only had the Ibrox side’s fourth victory in a row, away to St Johnstone, cut the gap on their city rivals to six points, but the postponement of last night’s Celtic-Dundee match means victory in next Saturday’s Old Firm match at Ibrox could cut the gap to just three, albeit having played a game more.

In McCall’s considered opinion, while we might not have a title race right now, we certainly will have if – and it’s a big if – all this comes to pass. While Celtic could point to the fact that their European distraction is finally out the way, if a three-point margin with nine games remaining in mid-March doesn’t constitute a title race, then nothing will.

And not least because for once, Scottish football has a post-split environment where every team has already proven capable of taking points off everyone else. “Big Terry Butcher said on TV the other night there is no title race,” said McCall, speaking courtesy of Scottish Cup sponsors William Hill. “But if Rangers were to beat Celtic on March 11 - and it’s a big if – then it would be down to three points.

“It’s there,” added the former Bradford boss. “It would be good for everyone in Scottish football to have a title race. We’d all like to talk about some kind of challenge. I was away on holiday at the weekend and you are looking at one result on the Saturday then you are desperate to see how the other team gets on the next day. Celtic do what they need to do. They come through the tough games when they need to. But it will be interesting. They might not have been in this position before.

“Then there is all the stuff with the split and where they are going to play. Hibs, on their day, can beat anyone - Rangers or Celtic. Kilmarnock have beaten Rangers and Celtic. Hearts have proved they can do the same. So if it goes to the split and it’s three points it’s very interesting. But I think we have to see what happens in the next Old Firm game. If Rangers win that and narrow the gap to three it’s game on. If they don’t it’s back to nine and the excitement goes a bit.”

For all this heady talk of title challenges and the like, McCall feels that establishing Rangers in second will be achievement enough for Murty, The one thing which he crucially which he has over one of his predecessors is being in position long enough to have a say on which players came into the club at a transfer window, in his case January. McCall eulogises about signings like Jamie Murphy and Russell Martin, who he knows from Motherwell and Scotland respectively. “What will it take for him to get the job?” said McCall. “The double! I don’t know. Just to keep the same progression. The way he is going Graeme is making his case stronger and stronger with every passing week. But there has to be realism. There is where you want to be and where you should be. From where Rangers have come from second is a big deal. You have to be building and getting a decent second spot would be proof of that – and they’ve still got the Cup to aim for too.

“We’re not talking a squad that’s going to go and conquer Europe but the stepping stone was they have to get second,” he added. “It’s not always about budgets, but the league placings are probably accurate in that respect. Murty has also done well in two games against Celtic so that’s another positive. But it probably needs that break-through win against Celtic to really make people sit up and take notice.

“There’s no question Rangers go into the game in the strongest position they’ve been. So they have a chance. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but they’ve put themselves in a position where they will be going into an Old Firm game for the first time in a long time with a bit of belief and confidence. But then you look over at the other side and the characters and experience Celtic have in their side like Brown and so on and they will relish it. We were always expected to win in our day, same as Celtic are now. But t would be good for everyone if Rangers were to win that game and make things a little bit more exciting.”