Not at the Races
Another Old Firm game and another defeat for Rangers. With Mark Warburton setting aside his 4-3-3 philosophy for a more pragmatic 4-4-2 approach in an attempt to make the team harder to beat and avoid another heavy defeat, early signs pointed to a damage limitation exercise for Warburton's team. This proved to be the case and while the score line at the final whistle was not as bad as the 5-1 league game earlier in the season, this was largely down to a fine display from Matt Gilks on his old firm debut, combined with no small amount of luck and poor refereeing.
It wasn’t 5-1 - but it easily could have been.
Yet another game goes by where some of Warburton's players who are commanding first team starts, appear simply not up to the job at hand. The inclusion of Barrie McKay - when all previous form this season has suggested he didn’t remotely deserve a starting place - defies logic. Yet start he did - and was dully subbed after yet another ineffectual display. One wonders how many chances McKay is going to get to try and turn his season around.
Yet he was not alone. Wallace, Windass, Miller and Halliday made little impact on the game - with Wallace culpable for the goal that Celtic finally got for all their pressure and Windass admitting he “hadn’t turned up”. Additionally, the lack of capable defenders and midfielders on the subs bench was cause for concern as Crooks and Senderos were the only two players who could fill these positions should substitutes be required - and both have barely featured this season. The chances of either a midfielder or defender getting replaced on Sunday were slim to none regardless of how badly they played - and even when an out of sorts Windass was replaced, it was Tavernier that was asked to fill his position as Rangers inexplicably reverted to a 4-3-3 formation to chase a game that hadn’t actually been lost at that stage. While there is no doubt injuries exacerbated this lack of cover in these areas, the rumours of Rossiter's homesickness and Forrester on a train south before the game, are starting to point to potential problems arising in the dressing room, which are concerning to hear for the Rangers support.
Yet even if all these players were fit and well, It is hard to be optimistic when faced with the stark fact that the current squad appears nowhere near challenging Celtic for the top spot. Previous interviews where Warburton wants Rangers to be “competitive” while Dave King expects to see second place at a minimum only confirm that the Rangers management and directors don’t really expect to be challenging this season either. Whether you agree with them or not, that is a bitter pill for Rangers supporters to swallow. They have every right to be unhappy and verbal gymnastics from the manager and directors won’t change that.
Ultimately, the signings Warburton has made this year have made little or no impact. Ongoing injury problems aside, the Barton/Kranjcar experiment has failed miserably and the uncomfortable fact remains that when Warburton has been provided with decent money he has signed Joe Garner - a player who has been so ineffectual in a Rangers jersey he is almost anonymous - and Michael O’Halloran, who he now seems loath to play.
The culmination of this is that serious questions are now being asked of Warburton's ability to manage Rangers. His team selections, his recent signings and his strict adherence to a formation that leaves the current players over exposed has resulted in more than just some raised eyebrows. His saving grace is that there is still a long way to go in this season and another cup to be fought for. Whether Rangers salvage something from it or it sinks into a year of mediocrity may well determine whether or not he is still at Ibrox next season.