There was a strong and horrible feeling of déjà vu when leaving Ibrox on Saturday afternoon after another miserable showing against our greatest rivals. There can be little doubt that we Rangers supporters have had more of our fair share of black eyes in recent years. Saturday felt like yet another to add to what feels like an endless line of them at the moment.
The scoreline said 2-0, but in all honesty this could have been another mauling akin to the one Celtic dished out to us in April, particularly in the second-half where Rangers were woefully exposed all over the park. Granted Rangers were dealt a couple of injury blows beforehand, but even still the manner of the defeat was hard to take.
The result leaves Rangers in fifth place and already eight points behind Celtic, six behind Aberdeen and moored in a place that raises more questions over Pedro Caixinha. After the woeful performances in his previous two Old Firm games the form continued on Saturday. The first-half suggested that Rangers could make a fight of it, and were it not for a baffling decision by Craig Thomson not to award a penalty for a tackle on Morelos 13 minutes into the first-half then the game may have taken a different turn.
However the second-half performance was weak and Celtic could have easily added to their tally as they made what seemed a continual progression towards Wes Foderingham’s goal.
But the fact of the matter is that this game alone has not brought questions on Caixinha’s ability to lead Rangers. Nobody really expects Rangers to match Celtic over a season in the current climate. However there must be a concern that Rangers went into this game already five points behind their city rivals after only six games. The main worry for Caixinha is that his side has struggled against the rest, particularly at home where we have won only one of our four games, and that was against a woeful Dundee side.
Take that victory against Neil McCann’s side, and the 6-0 drubbing of Dunfermline in the Betfred Cup, out of the equation and you are left with scrappy and unconvincing performances and results.
Rangers went to Firhill last Friday night with the chance to go top of the league – if only for a short period. But yet again Caixinha’s men choked, dropped points against a very average Thistle side and went into the game on Saturday against Celtic on the back-foot.
Against Celtic Caixinha was let down by more than one of his summer signings, with Graham Dorrans in particular proving to be a big disappointment in his first Old Firm game. But Carlos Pena must also come under the spotlight. The man signed for £2.7m has yet to show anything since arriving in the summer. Too easily brushed off the ball and hesitant and wasteful with possession, he looked way off representing any kind of value for the big money spent on him. I keep hearing the argument that he needs to get fit. Well he has been here for three months now with little sign of that improving.
Pedro has now entered the phase where he has to start winning consistently very soon or he will be up against it. The Betfred Cup semi-final draw provides him with a big opportunity to reach a final. If he can do that and win the next few league games he will ease some of the pressure which is building on him.
The manner of defeat was pretty emphatic but that does not mean that there were not reasons to question some of Craig Thomson’s refereeing of the game. The decision not to award a penalty was, as mentioned earlier, baffling. More so when you consider the same referee awarded Celtic a penalty in an almost identical position a few years back for a tackle by Steven Davis on Anthony Stokes. Famously McGregor saved the spot-kick, but it does point to a worrying lack of consistency in Thomson’s refereeing, other than his ability to make the wrong call. How Thomson saw Morelos’s tackle on Boyata as worthy of the games first booking was equally as puzzling.
You also have to wonder how Scott Brown and Leigh Griffiths escaped any kind of censure for their conduct on the park – especially when it came to gesturing to the home support.
Brown in particular has taken advantage of Rangers’ recent woes. A man who used to be anonymous in these games at Ibrox now roams around unchallenged as if he owns the place. If Rangers are going to start having an impact in these games, someone is going to have to meet Brown head-on and put him back in his box. That nobody done that on Saturday is hard to take.
Another issue on Saturday was the behaviour of the Celtic support housed in the Broomloan Rd stand. A support that is continually offended by chants by their oldest rivals seemed quite happy to belt out some ditty about Rangers’ kit man Jimmy Bell being an “orange bastard” etc. In indulging in such behaviour they expose their hypocrisy and that the foundations of the moral high ground they perpetually populate are built on sand.
There was also the issue of a flare being aimed at Wes Foderingham after they scored the first goal, and the continual refusal to return the ball whenever it went into their end – only for it to be thrown back on the park when the replacement ball arrived.
The flare incident is one worthy of watching in terms of any ramifications for Celtic. Rangers volunteered to pay for the damage to Falkirk’s pitch after a flare landed on their new playing surface in Scottish Cup match between the clubs in 2013. The incident caused quite a stir in the media at the time with Mark Guidi in the Daily Record describing the Rangers supporters involved in the incident as “hooligans”. Given the amount of Uefa fines the Celtic support has attracted recently, it will be interesting to see how the likes of the Record and others view this latest pyro incident. You would imagine there would be a healthy amount of criticism due. I won’t hold my breath though.
However such incidents detract from the real issue. Rangers simply weren’t good enough on Saturday and, young Ross McCrorie aside, who was excellent and arguably the only positive to come out of the game for Rangers, most of the players in that team need to take a long hard look at themselves in terms of how they performed on Saturday – and indeed since the season started.
Saturday was yet another sore one to take. And Rangers yet again have the look of a club that is drifting aimlessly towards mediocrity and uncertainty. Already out of Europe, trailing significantly in the league and facing a tricky semi-final tie in the Betfred Cup, we have the very real prospect of heading into the new year with only one trophy available to us in terms of winning. I don’t care how far behind them we are in financial terms, that is simply unacceptable.