There cannot be too many Rangers fans looking forward to next season. An Old Firm defeat is hard enough to take, never mind two comprehensive reversals in the space of six days. I know from speaking to them after Saturday’s 5-1 defeat by Celtic that the fans are feeling the pain.
The players have to feel that as well. There’s a difference between that and kidding on the pain hurts when on social media or whatever.
If the pain really does hurt and it burns the belly they will come back for pre-season feeling doubly determined.
There are reports the Rangers players aren’t too happy about the short summer holiday they are getting because Pedro Caixinha wants them back at the start of June.
I was the same when I was a player.
You hated it when the gaffer cancelled a day off or you got called in on a Sunday because he was not happy.
But now I’m retired and can have as many holidays as I want. That will be the same for the Rangers players soon enough.
Scotty Brown has had ten days’ holiday for the last umpteen years and yet he has six winners’ medals in his back pocket.
Would the Rangers players really be that bothered about having only nine or ten days off if they are sitting with a championship medal or a couple of winners medals? I’d say no. It’s a small sacrifice.
The fans, the club, deserve players who are absolutely committed. You have to buy into what the manager wants. These current players don’t really have a leg to stand on just now anyway.
I noticed on Twitter that yesterday was the ninth anniversary of getting to the Europa League final with Rangers after we beat Fiorentina on penalties in 2008.
That was one of those games when you dug deep; you went the extra mile in extra time and earned the reward. I played left-back a lot of that night because big Sasa Papac was knackered. I was playing centre midfield and trying to help him by covering the left-back area.
We had to grind it out to the extent your lungs feel like they cannot take any more. But the reward was what we got at the end of it: a European final. it was worth every agonising yard. We found a way to combat Fiorentina’s good players.
When I have watched Celtic v Rangers games this season it’s made me think of the times we used to play teams better than us in Europe, such as on the road to that final in Manchester. It felt like they were fitter than us, stronger than us, faster and better on the ball than us. But we found a way.
When I watch Celtic in these games, they look fitter, faster and have more quality.
I could not see what Caixinha’s gameplan was on Saturday. To my eyes, Celtic’s weakness, or their least strong area, is the back four. Their threat is the way they go forward.
They get three or four players running into the box at every counter attack.
Whenever they win the ball back, they play a clever pass and Callum McGregor, Stuart Armstrong, Scott Sinclair, Leigh Griffiths and Patrick Roberts are all pouring forward, with Scotty Brown backing them up.
The way to counteract this is to get men behind the ball. At times Celtic had four or five players lining up to score.
You can pick holes in near enough every goal.
Caixinha will stand or fall by his summer recruitment. He has to do what Brendan Rodgers has done at Celtic. Rodgers brought in players who have not taken much time to settle and he has galvanised the ones already there.
That is the challenge for Pedro – galvanise those who have been underachieving. He will know that at a club like Rangers you don’t get a honeymoon period.
His recruitment will be key but it’s also true that a lot of players on Saturday are contracted up to 2019-2020. He can’t change too much. He might have to back away a bit from the style he believes in – a bit like Mark Warburton had to do.
That’s the challenge as a manager. How to play to your strengths with the players you have.
I would probably have started Andy Halliday rather than Myles Beerman at left-back on Saturday to add more experience to the back four.
When I was with him at Middlesbrough, he was a centre forward.
He just lacked that bit of quality to play up front in the Championship. Tony Mowbray switched him to play left-back for a spell. He is tenacious and has the pride where he does not want to get beaten by a winger. He played about 15 games for us at left-back and did really well.
I felt for Beerman. It’s a great learning experience. Being asked to play in such a big game aged only 18 is testament to how well he has done since breaking into the side.
He started well, got tight on Griffiths, nicked the ball off him at one point, and then suddenly made a rash challenge on Roberts.
That’s when you want the ground to swallow you up. But at 1-0 down to Celtic after ten minutes, that should not be curtains. You should have belief and enough characters to say: let’s go again. But as soon as that penalty went in for 1-0, the referee might as well have blown the final whistle.