A wholly curious afternoon played out at Ibrox yesterday.
Any feelgood that might have been expected to filter through the Ibrox faithful following the Steven Gerrard appointment couldn’t entirely suppress the feelbad lingering from the record league derby whipping that gifted Celtic title celebrations against them the previous weekend.
In the end, with a deserved late winner by David Bates – a player that won’t be part of the Gerrard makeover after signing a pre-contract with SV Hamburg -–Rangers supporters could feel OK as they trooped away from their final home game of the season.
The victory over Kilmarnock brings them to within a point of Aberdeen in the joust for second place, ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Pittodrie and the visit to Easter Road next Sunday for their final league game. Moreover, it marked the first time this season that Rangers had strung together three wins in their own environs.
Small potatoes, and interim to the deposed interim Jimmy Nicholl didn’t try to present the dogged effort he drew from the Rangers team as a King Edward. It was similar with captain James Tavernier. Both men, while respectively delighting in Gerrard’s appointment as “massive”, didn’t overlook that this week they were left reeling from a 5-0 defeat by Celtic then the sacking of Graeme Murty. He was airbrushed out of the Gerrard jamboree at Ibrox on Friday but his assistant Nicholl made a point of praising his contribution. Asked how many of the squad Gerrard would be likely to keep, the Northern Irishman’s pregnant pause, and eyeball revolutions, told a story.
“Listen, I thought Graeme did a great job to get them into this position,” said Nicholl. “I’m telling you, it’s a difficult job. Believe me, it was difficult the things he had to deal with and handle, and he did it. But unfortunately he got beaten by Celtic and that’s it – it’s the be all and end all. You have to beat Celtic, to get in the cup finals you have to beat them, you have to beat them at their place to stop them winning the league. You have to do all these things. But for what he did leading up to those games, I’m telling you he did a good job.
“I want to leave him [Gerrard] a legacy of European football at least – and by doing that, that means they’ve performed and he’s happy with what he’s seen. And he’ll do a bit of weeding… get the weeds sorted out from the flowers.”
The encounter yesterday rarely blossomed. A double save by Jak Alnwick, who got behind a low free-kick from Kris Boyd then saved at the feet of Aaron Tshibola for the rebound, and Jamie Murphy heading against the crossbar were the notable moments in a meandering first period. Rangers penned Kilmarnock in for most of the second period and when Sean Goss flighted the ball from the left channel Bates was on hand to force it in at the back post.
Kilmarnock manager Stevie Clarke cut a narked figure post-match. It was not the result, though, but Alfredo Morelos – already on a booking – receiving no sanction from Alan Muir after punching Stuart Findlay in the groin seconds before the end that blackened his mood.
“I’d say there was an elbow on Stuart Findlay dealt with by a yellow card, which I’m not sure is the right card. There was also a punch to his groin later on, when my goalkeeper had the ball in his hand, he gave a free-kick to us, so he saw the movement – no second yellow,” said Clarke. “It probably wouldn’t have made a difference to the game and I don’t want the lad Morelos to be cited or dealt with because it doesn’t help us or this game. I’m not a big fan of that, but it shows a little bit, for me, the level of the refereeing performance today and that’s the last two games.
“I haven’t spoken about the referees all season and it’s not as if I’m arguing because we’re desperate for points because we’re not. Referees have to be fair to both teams, that’s all I ask for.”