Old Firm defeat shows Rangers are still poor relations

Whatever form of measurement Dave King uses to assess the health of his investments, he is unlikely to find much encouragement in the early returns from Pedro Caixinha's well-funded revamp of the Rangers squad.

Scott Brown was head and shoulders above Carlos Pena at Ibrox on Saturday as Celtic eased to victory over Rangers. Picture: Jeff Holmes/PA

King presumably watched Saturday’s Old Firm encounter unfold on Rangers TV in his Johannesburg
home. It would not have been 
comfortable viewing for the South Africa-based businessman.

If the final scoreline was more respectable than the record 5-1 defeat Rangers suffered on Celtic’s previous visit to Ibrox in April, the gap in quality between the teams was every bit as obvious. Brendan Rodgers’ side are fitter, faster and both technically and tactically superior in a “rivalry” which now barely merits the description.

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While Rodgers eyes the broader horizons of a Champions League challenge which takes his team to Brussels on Wednesday for a crucial fixture against Anderlecht, Caixinha is floundering in his efforts to simply restore the competitive credibility at domestic level which is the minimum requirement for him this season.

Rangers have now dropped ten points from their first seven matches
of the Premiership campaign. It is a marginal improvement from their start to life back in the top flight last season under Mark Warburton, when they dropped 12 points over the same period, but hardly constitutes the kind of progress King would have envisaged when he gave Caixinha carte blanche to overhaul his 
playing personnel in the summer.

Six of his 11 new signings started Saturday’s match, with two more appearing from the bench, but it was difficult to detect any significant improvement. While Ryan Jack and Graham Dorrans at least added some steel in the midfield battle, especially
during the goalless first half, there was a glaring lack of creativity in that department for Rangers.

It is a quality which is supposed to be provided by Carlos Pena, Caixinha’s most expensive recruit, but the Mexican was a wretchedly ineffective performer on his first Premiership start for the Ibrox men. The 27-year-old is toiling badly to get up to speed with Scottish football and has the look of someone who has found himself in very much the wrong movie.

As the afternoon progressed, the crucial midfield battle became another mismatch as Celtic captain Scott Brown set the tempo and dictated the pattern of play for the champions. Their unbeaten domestic run under Rodgers is now stretched to 57 games and they are in no mood to relinquish their remarkably consistent dominance any time soon.

“We feel like we are going to win every game we go into,” said Tom Rogic, scorer of Celtic’s first goal five minutes into the second half when he benefited from Rangers’ failure to clear a Leigh Griffiths corner and swept a left-foot shot high beyond Wes Foderingham.

“We have that mindset. We are not too focused on the opposition going into the game, it’s important just to focus on ourselves. That’s what we did and that’s what gives us the confidence to keep going game after game and to keep winning. That’s why we’re successful, that’s why we keep going game after game unbeaten.

“We felt good out there. Our performance was good. From start to finish, we felt pretty comfortable in the match. We possibly could have had a few more goals.”

Rangers can point to a couple of key moments which, perhaps, had the potential to change the course of the game. Jozo Simunovic’s clumsy 13th-minute challenge on Alfredo Morelos prompted a credible claim for a penalty which was rejected by referee Craig Thomson, then Morelos was denied an equaliser for Rangers when his close-range header was kept out by Craig Gordon’s instinctive save.

But there was always a sense that Celtic had more than enough in the tank to do whatever was required to win. The three points were effectively wrapped up when Griffiths raced on to Patrick Roberts’ neat reverse pass and found space behind 19-year-old Ross McCrorie – who overall had a performance he can be proud of as central defensive deputy for the injured Bruno Alves – to drill a low shot past Foderingham.

“We are bitterly disappointed,” said Dorrans, Rangers’ captain for the day in the absence of Lee Wallace.

“In the first half, I thought we matched Celtic. Celtic had a lot of the ball without hurting us too much. They had a few early chances but we stayed in the game. We came out second half and they scored within five minutes which knocks us a little bit, but we got back in the game and pushed on. We had a good chance from Alfredo. Craig Gordon made a good save – with a bit of luck that goes in and the game changes. But it didn’t and they went on to get the second goal which kills us a little bit.

“Goals change games. If we had got the first goal or the equaliser we would have grown into it a little bit more. With a little bit of luck it might have done. We just need to stick together and move on.

“It’s three points dropped for us, but we have another game coming up at Hamilton on Friday. We find ourselves in this situation at the moment which is not ideal, but we need to stick together and we need to show what it means to us.

“Listen, it’s going to be tough [to get closer to Celtic]. We have got a number of new players and we are just working each other out at the minute. But there is good ability here, it’s a strong squad we’ve got. On Friday night, hopefully we can go out and get a win and start to build a bit of momentum again.”