Scottish football: Rangers, Stuart Armstrong, Steven MacLean, Jonny Hayes, Hearts

Rangers players are left disappointed against Celtic on Saturday
Rangers suffered a 5-1 defeat by Glasgow rivals Celtic on Saturday

Rangers have had a painful reality check and those who reckon they can compete for anything other than runners-up spot in the Scottish Premiership are deluding themselves.

The deficiencies of Mark Warburton's team were laid bare in their 5-1 defeat at Celtic Park on Saturday and the Rangers manager must be in a small minority to deny there's a gulf in quality between the Old Firm pair.

Maybe 30-plus midfielders Joey Barton and Niko Kranjcar can be deployed together against lesser opposition, but the pairing was woefully inadequate against Celtic.

I can understand why another over-30, newly signed Philippe Senderos, was pitched into another problem area, but the gamble at stabilising their central defence failed.

The performance of Josh Windass was one positive for Rangers, but it was a weekend that offered precious few crumbs of comfort for the Ibrox club.

Rodgers re-launching Armstrong career

Celtic's Stuart Armstrong celebrates his goal against Rangers
Stuart Armstrong scored Celtic's fifth goal against Rangers

Stuart Armstrong is the latest glaring example of how Celtic have been reinvented during this Brendan Rodgers revolution.

It's less than four months since the former Swansea City and Liverpool manager stepped into Scottish football, but his impact at Celtic Park has been spectacular.

Rodgers' first three signings, Moussa Dembele, Scott Sinclair and Kolo Toure, have all made an eye-catching impression and existing players like Scott Brown, Tom Rogic and James Forrest have been encouraged to reproduce their best form.

Armstrong is another who, under Ronny Deila's management, was going backwards, but his 40-minute cameo appearance off the bench during the routing of Rangers, which included the fifth Celtic goal, reminded us all how good he can be.

The watching Scotland head coach, Gordon Strachan, was almost purring at the impressive return of Armstrong, who can once again be knocking on the door of the national team.

MacLean: top name, top striker

St Johnstone's Steven MacLean celebrates with Brian Easton
Steven MacLean (left) scored in St Johnstone's win over Partick Thistle

There was confirmation for me at the weekend that Steven MacLean doesn't just have a top surname. The St Johnstone striker is also the owner of a great football brain.

Saints' number nine slammed in a spectacular goal at Firhill to seal the points against Partick Thistle on Saturday to secure a return to the Premiership top six.

But it's his game intelligence that consistently makes him a pleasure to watch.

When Stevie May was causing a sensation at St Johnstone, and scoring goals for fun, MacLean played a massive part in making that partnership so successful. And he continues to have a big influence on the players around him.

It's simple stuff really. MacLean gets the ball up front, keeps it, brings other attackers into the game and pretty much runs the show for the Perth team.

At the age of 34, he continues to be pivotal to St Johnstone's style of play.

Jonny helps Aberdeen make hay

Aberdeen winger Jonny Hayes
Jonny Hayes had a six-game absence for Aberdeen through injury

The Aberdeen fans know how much they miss Jonny Hayes when the wee winger's not around. That's only been emphasised during his recent six-match absence.

He was back at the weekend against his old team, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, and, not surprisingly, needed the game to get anywhere near match sharpness.

While Hayes has been missing, Aberdeen have been knocked out of Europe and embarked on an underwhelming, by their standards, start to the domestic season.

They've won only two of the six games in which they've been without the Irishman and those were against Ayr United in the League Cup and early season Premiership strugglers Partick Thistle.

Don't be surprised if the return of Hayes coincides with a kick-start to Aberdeen's campaign.

Neilson's Hearts beating strong

Callum Paterson, Sam Nicholson and Jamie Walker celebrate for Hearts against Hamilton
Hearts beat Hamilton 3-1 on Saturday and sit second in the Premiership table

Hearts have pleasantly surprised me with their impressive opening to the Premiership season.

I commentated on their two home games in the Europa League qualifiers and wondered whether, on the back of a couple of highly successful seasons, they had enough depth to their squad this time around.

We're only a month or so into the campaign, but Robbie Neilson's team are off to a very encouraging start.

Hearts have drawn at Pittodrie and beaten Hamilton Academical, Inverness Caley Thistle and Partick Thistle. Their only defeat was against champions Celtic.

I wasn't sure how they could possibly improve on their third-place finish last season.

Maybe, all things considered, they're in with a chance.

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