There is admirable realism from Lee Wallace over the situation in which his Rangers team find themselves as they head to Celtic Park today. Unfortunately for the Ibrox captain, this merely crystallises the bleakness of the moment for the Ibrox club.
Wallace is too much the good professional, too much the solid citizen and studied captain, not to say all the right things, of course. He says his team are “excited” about the challenge of facing a Brendan Rodgers side that have taken his team apart on the three occasions they have met during an unbeaten domestic campaign that has so far yielded 33 victories from 34 games for Celtic.
He says he “absolutely” believes there is more in the Rangers squad than what they have shown in falling 33 points behind their Glasgow rivals with form that resulted in the departure of mentor Mark Warburton. And he says that a good result today could allow them to “kick on” under new manager Pedro Caixinha, who will take charge after interim boss Graeme Murty’s final game at the helm this afternoon.
All of these worthy words are offered with a dutiful air, though. It is only when the mask slips that Wallace gives a true insight into the vexations framing life at the Ibrox club. The 29-year-old was asked about how ghastly was the prospect of falling 36 points behind Celtic if they do not avoid defeat at the home of the soon-to-be six time champions.
“It won’t get to me any more than how I feel about the gap that already exists,” he shot back. “I think 36, 33, 39, 23, whatever it is it, has not been acceptable from us. We’ve been really disappointed. It’s been there and growing for a number of months.
“We did maintain at the start of the season that we wanted to be as competitive as possible and it’s not proven to be the fact. Of course if it gets worse, then it gets worse.”
In talking incentives for victory today, Wallace only succeeded in setting out how all-conquering Celtic have been this season. They have already set a new post-war record for an unbeaten start to the domestic season and are only three games short of breaking their own UK record of 25 straight league wins set by Martin O’Neill’s team in 2004.
“We understand every record they have broken so far and the ones that they can do if they go on to win this fixture. We’ve got them two more times in the league and we want to stop them doing the clean sweep on us [and] the treble that is still out there obviously.
“We are aware of all that and it would be nice to put a stop to all these things by us going there and winning the game.
“If we do that, we’ll generate a bit of belief and confidence from our own point of view and hopefully finish the season really strongly.”
With morale-boosting results in the past fortnight under Murty, Wallace maintains the perception of the club as coming apart at the seams as they have operated without a permanent manager for almost a month doesn’t square with the reality. Equally, the likely presence of Caixinha at today’s game won’t provide an extra spur to the Rangers squad, since that would suggest they have been holding something in reserve.
“We have always remained focused and tried to train as well as we could,” he said. “We understand everything that goes on in here. Every day you have a reporter out there, reporting back to Sky Sports, letting the world know that we are in turmoil and a bit disillusioned [about] what’s going on but that’s never been the case. We have just trained, ate and analysed as normal and tried to go and win games.
“We have won the last two, with everything else going on, and it has managed to be fine. We’ve got ourselves in a more confident state going into this game. The manager has probably been watching the games or the candidates involved have, so will have taken note of that. We are playing to try and impress and make sure we get off on the right foot.
“We’re definitely aware the new manager could be watching but we are going in there off the back of Graeme’s great work this last three weeks and will try and win.”
Yet Wallace is so effusive and respectful in his acknowledgement of Celtic’s strengths, he unwittingly betrays how onerous it will be to upset all the odds to claim that victory this lunchtime.
“I’ve read Brendan Rodgers’ bits this week and he’s right, they have been asked a number of questions,” said Wallace. “One of the biggest questions was when we went ahead on our home pitch [in the Hogmanay derby] as they were protecting their undefeated record, and they have answered that [Celtic came back to win 2-1]. That’s probably the biggest question to date.
“They have been behind and won different types of games. Brendan Rodgers mentioned if it’s a fight, they will be up for that. If it’s a game where the team open up, they are going to exploit them with their pace and explosive players and if they sit deep they will be patient with their possession and look for the spaces and win games from there. That’s spot on but we still believe we have players in that dressing room that can hurt them.
“Maybe when we realise we haven’t had such a good season and have been disappointed with the enormity of the gap, you quickly forget you have good team-mates, good players in that dressing room that when confident can hurt anybody in the league.
“We’re not being overly confident because we are in no way, shape or form able to do that, but when I look at some of my team-mates we can hurt anyone if we prepare right and deliver on the matchday and come Sunday we will be ready to do that.”
Wallace, though, will be travelling with hope not expectation.