Rangers’ season is suffering death by a thousands cuts. This latest incision also brought bruises of the literal, as well as metaphorical, sense.
Yet, Steven Gerrard’s desire to present his team as having been battered into accepting a point by an uncompromising Kilmarnock – who enhanced their hopes of finishing fourth in the Premiership and qualifying for Europe – is the equivalent of attempting to dress self-inflicted wounds.
The Ibrox side have now dropped nine points in their past nine league games, and haven’t won any of the four games they have played in March. It is almost incidental that Celtic can extend their Premiership lead to ten points at Dundee today.
There is no title race being contested by this failing, flailing Ibrox side who came up short yesterday in precisely the same fashion as their trophy hopes for the season were knifed by Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup on Tuesday. The Ayrshire side, as with the Pittodrie men, played rope-a-dope to thwart their hosts after capitalising on cataclysmic defending to go in front.
Moreover, controversy seems to be an obligatory ingredient in the cocktail with which Rangers games become shaken and stirred. Yesterday was no different. Equally obligatory is the involvement of Alfredo Morelos in such. The Colombian salvaged a point with his 29th goal of the season 65 minutes in when he cutely turned Stuart Findlay after seizing on a James Tavernier centre and squeezed a low drive in at the near post.
Yet, by then Kilmarnock felt he should have been shown his fifth red card of the season following a dust up with Kirk Broadfoot as the players left the field at half-time. The altercation was hard to pick apart, but seemed to involve Morelos raising his hands towards the face of Broadfoot, who is understood to have kicked out at the forward.
Referee Greg Aitken took no action, and seemed unsure what action to take when, in added time, Connor Goldson wiped out Liam Millar as the striker sprinted past him and towards the penalty box. It was the crudest of challenges on an afternoon in which these weren’t exactly in short supply but Aitken, after appearing to take instruction via his earpiece, seemed to shirk a dismissal in favour of a caution.
These were incidentals, though, with Gerrard left enraged by the misshapen backline that allowed Kilmarnock, who lost Eamonn Brophy to injury early on, to take a 28th-minute lead. With Nikola Katic and Goldson on different wavelengths, a fleet of buses could have been driven through the space Gary Dicker delivered a pass that was gratefully accepted by substitute Conor McAleny. The player gratefully accepted too Allan McGregor running out of his box to meet him, which merely allowed McAleny to ease the ball round him and roll it into an empty net.
McGregor left himself with no challenge to make because he had minutes earlier been booked for bounding to the halfway line to bawl at Aitken over a penalty claim for handball that TV evidence showed the official was right to turn down.
“The rules are in any coaching book if there is no pressure on the ball, you drop off. You drop off together. You can’t be two doing one thing, and two doing the other,” despaired Gerrard of his back four becoming two back twos, effectively. “Otherwise you might leave your goalkeeper with a different decision to make ‘should I come or should I stay’. It creates uncertainty at the back and you are not in sync and that’s what happened at the first goal; it was a poor goal to concede.”
Rangers might have lost a second one just before the interval when Alan Power shot wide, but it was the hosts who did all the pressing following the interval, with Steven Davis, Jermain Defoe and Morelos all passing up good openings.
While once more acknowledging an “over-reliance” on Morelos, Gerrard implicated what he considered spoiler tactics from Killie in the fate that befell his side.
“From the moment Kilmarnock score, they do everything they do to waste time, go down, foul, keep fouling, and it becomes even more frustrating. The performance wasn’t far away from being okay and being good enough to win the game. But the reality is we didn’t and we have to take any criticism on the chin.”
That chin is now scarred beyond any possible patching up.