Humiliation at Hampden quickly followed by redemption a fortnight later. This would have made for a pleasing narrative arc. It’s just a pity cold, brutal reality keeps on intervening to deliver wake-up calls to Rangers like splashes of freezing water in the morning.
The trouble is, they refuse to wise up. It’s possible this latest fraught experience will prove a tipping point. The them-and-us scenario has rarely been so brutally underlined. Nor has the price of years of mismanagement of Rangers been so starkly illustrated. Folly following folly, inexperienced manager following inexperienced manager. This was five going on ten.
Once again chairman Dave King was absent from an Old Firm game, possibly detained because he was keeping Steven Gerrard strapped down in a darkened room with no WiFi access. News of this won’t have done Rangers’ hopes of recruiting the Liverpool legend much good.
However many times Rangers and Celtic meet – this was the third clash in just six weeks – the outcome remains the same. The ultimate test of a team’s worth over another is doing it again and again and again. Brendan Rodgers now has nine wins from 11 meetings. He remains unbeaten. The margin of victory reflected the gulf in class as it did two weeks ago. The worry for Rangers is that it’s getting bigger.
Six years after those banners depicting the four horsemen of the apocalypse – the taxman, death, Craig Whyte and Neil Lennon, the then Celtic manager – Celtic fans got what they wanted: an afternoon where their rivals were almost pleading for mercy. They will interpret this as the finest of several judgment days to date.
Celtic stuck the boot in on and off the field. “You deserve nothing, you will win nothing, you will do nothing, you will always be nothing,” read a series of banners produced by the Green brigade midway through the second half. Celtic seemed to have finally sated their thirst by then.
It could have become truly grisly for Rangers. There was a period just after half-time when Jak Alnwick was leaping this way and that to prevent the visitors going six, seven, maybe even eight down. Remarkably a goalkeeper who had conceded five times in the opening 50 or so minutes emerged as Rangers’ man of the match.
A chorus of “We’ve won the league again, fly the flag, fly the flag” filled the stadium with a few minutes remaining. It was almost as if the Celtic fans had suddenly remembered the bigger picture following so much fun at Rangers’ expense. The few away fans who remained responded with a rendition of God Save the Queen. The sight of a lone Rangers fans traipsing down the steps at the end while waving a Union Jack flag seemed the definition of futile defiance. Never mind the seven-in-a-row champions, these supporters who stayed to the end deserve a medal. It had proved a gruelling experience from the off.
It had barely gone midday on Sunday and yet the prospect of relief, some repose, had already slipped away. Andy Halliday’s inclusion in the Rangers stating XI raised the prospect we might see some personal form of satisfaction retrieved from the wreckage of his recent weeks. After hauling him off after 40 minutes in the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat Ibrox manager Graeme Murty turned to Halliday at left-back after Declan John broke an arm in training.
It was quite a challenge for Halliday. Exorcise those ghosts on a day when Celtic had the scent of glory in their nostrils while also playing out of position against a winger recently included on the PFA shortlist for Player of the Year.
He started brightly enough. One sliding tackle to stop James Forrest in his tracks earned a huge ovation from the Rangers fans in the corner. He then nodded a dangerous Callum McGregor cross behind for a corner. It seemed possible he might secure a personal victory over Forrest even if his side taking something from the game appeared remote judging from the one-sided opening.
It was not to be. Halliday was partly culpable for allowing Odsonne Edouard to stride towards goal for his and Celtic’s second and then made a lame effort to prevent Forrest getting on the score-sheet.
The Celtic fans took up where they left off at Hampden with their mockery. At one point in the far corner Halliday was seen to be remonstrating with them, which only served to delight these supporters more.
Celtic were not above milking things for all they were worth. “Let’s take a look back at those goals,” the MC announced with relish at half-time. And so we did, from every conceivable angle. The winner of the half-time draw had three relatives with him. “One here for every goal!” chirruped the man with the mic.
Rangers took some solace from ensuring the deluge got no worse after No 5. But then, when you’ve already had players celebrating by whipping hats from policemen – as Mikael Lustig did after Forrest’s strike – and Rangers substitutes cheered on to the pitch by the opposition fans, as Alfredo Morelos was, this was a small mercy.
There was no one to make sense of it all from Rangers afterwards. The Ibrox club placed a ban on the players and, more significantly, the manager speaking. “He’s a broken man,” was one explanation proffered. Whether Murty should have been allowed to wander into this bloodbath following the warning signs of Hampden is for the Rangers hierarchy to answer were they not too busy star-gazing on Merseyside.