It’s never easy to take losing an Old Firm match. The usual scattergun approach comes alive on social media and the doom and gloom narrative is well underway because a crisis at Rangers is only ever one defeat away.
However, the overreaction to the 1-0 defeat has been ridiculous in some cases. Rangers were poor for the majority of the match, that’s a given. Did they deserve to win, on the balance of play, you would say no. The fact Gerrard chose to sit in against them, was the wrong choice in hindsight. But I can see why he would do that, sit in and attempt to hit them on the break. The team had a long-distance trip from Russia to contend with; they played large parts of that game with less than 11 men on the park and you could see even before the end of that match against Ufa that they were shattered.
So given that Celtic had an easy match at home to Suduva later that night, and looked very fresh on the day. I think if that Rangers team had tried to press them high, they would have been picked off in the midfield, especially as Ovie Ejaria looked very, very leggy. Yes, perhaps Gerrard should have freshened things up. But if he had done that and lost, he would have received criticism for that as well. In that regard, he was in a no-win situation.
However, where Gerrard can take some criticism, is not with his starting XI, but with his subs. He should have taken Ejaria off before the hour and replaced him with McCrorie or Halliday; he was dead on his feet. The other option would have been to bring on Daniel Candeias for Ryan Kent. But again, I can see why Kent stayed on so long for his ability to get Rangers up the park as he showed against Ufa.
One positive was the way we defended. When you set up a team to defend deep like Gerrard did, it’s inevitable that they are going to come under some serious pressure. Goldson, Katic and McGregor were outstanding. That triangle proved again how important it will be for Gerrard going forward. Yes, Celtic hit the bar twice but they only really had one clear-cut chance until the goal.
Now, let’s talk about the goal. It’s ironic that Rangers sat in most of the game trying to counter Celtic, yet Celtic’s goal comes from a counter-attack. It was one of the few times in the game that Rangers are on the front foot; the ball comes out to Ryan Jack and Rogic, they both go up for the header; then Rogic swipes Jack’s standing leg. There is your foul. So if Willie Collum was semi-competent or anything like it, Rangers would have a free-kick on the edge of Celtic’s box. Instead, he allowed them to break and low and behold they scored from it. The only other issue with the goal was that Ejaria should have left Rogic on the floor at any point and took the booking. Slightly naive on his part. However, if Collum isn’t such a pathetic excuse for a referee, the Ejaria situation doesn’t arise.
The performance was not the best, nor was it easy on the eye. But one result shouldn’t give the Rangers fans a negative feeling about how far the team has come since the 5-5 draw at Easter Road in the last game of last season. We have seen a mass overhaul of the playing squad and no one can deny there has been an improvement. We’ve seen the team already show bottle, heart and desire to qualify for the Europa League, which was an unexpected achievement.
However, the recent narrative is that this is Rangers’ worst start to a league campaign in 29 years. Factually, it’s correct. But what is being omitted is that Rangers went on to win the title that season. There is simply no perspective. The next five games are massive after the break. Hopefully, we will have some of the injured players back in contention and give that squad some depth. We must take 15 points from 15 and kick on.
Having said that, if you had asked anyone in June if they would take being four points behind in the league at this point, and have the team in the Europa League group stages, most people would have accepted it. Even more so when you factor in the number of games played in a short period.
The bigger picture dictates that Rangers are absolutely improving under Gerrard. Yes, they lost this one and didn’t play well. They lost the battle at the end of the day, but the war is just beginning. It’s okay to be disappointed. However, don’t be too despondent. This team, that has given us so much in the first 13 matches has so much more to give.
Now is a time to take stock, keep calm and be ready to go in the next five games. Overreacting and hyperbolic nonsense helps no one. I believe in this team; I believe we have a man in the dugout who will be a success, but that will be defined over a nine-month or longer period, not one 90 minutes of football.