Sunday’s 2-1 defeat at Dens Park, the first time the Ibrox club have lost on the ground for 25 years, saw Rangers drift six points behind Aberdeen in the race for second.
It has been determined that the exit of Mark Warburton was not an immediate cure to Rangers’ struggles, as interim boss Graeme Murty has thus far been unable to get an instant reaction from the squad.
As a result, as reported earlier today, the Rangers board have stepped up the hunt for a new manager and director of football. But are they right to react in such a swift manner to one game? After all, the plan appeared to be one of taking their time and getting the right man in place.
Should this loss accelerate the search for a new manager? Craig Fowler looks at both sides of the argument.
Through two games there’s been little to suggest Graeme Murty is any sort of improvement on Mark Warburton. Against Dundee, particularly in the first half, Rangers looked disorganised. Martyn Waghorn, Kenny Miller and Joe Garner were supposed to be playing three different positions, but seeing as they are all natural strikers they just ended up getting in each other’s way. Further back, the defence was just as dysfunctional as usual, while there was a real lack of fight and desire from the team.
It’s been a problem for Rangers since they came back to the top flight. They can’t stand up to teams who make things difficult for them. Instead, they try to outplay their opponents, and while it’s worked on occasion, a win percentage of 48 in league games is nowhere near good enough for the expectations of fans.
There may come a day when Murty is exactly the type of man to instil battling qualities into a struggling squad. The problem is that the players know he’s just a caretaker, whether it’s for the next week or the rest of the season. Ultimately, he’s not the man who’s going to decide their future. Therefore, there’s little chance he’s going to be able to do what Warburton couldn’t, and have this team capable of scrapping for wins.
In their current state, with confidence at an all-time low, there’s a real danger Rangers could be caught by Hearts in fourth place. The Edinburgh side are still trying to discover their own sense of identity after Ian Cathro took over from Robbie Neilson and recruited nine players in January, but there’s plenty of quality in the Hearts squad and if they get their act together they’ll be capable of going on the type of run which has seen Aberdeen push six points ahead of the Ibrox side.
Second would be bad enough for the Rangers support to take, but fourth? Unless they make it to the final, it would leave them needing Celtic to complete the treble in order to quality for Europe. You can recite all the excuses of “first season back in the top flight” all you want, but that is far from acceptable.
Failing to get the situation sorted would send out a message to the fans that the board are prepared to punt the rest of this season. They need to act now, get the right man in, and start a new chapter.
It is only a matter of time before Celtic secure their sixth successive title. Six down, four to go. If finishing fourth sounds bad to Rangers fans, can you imagine the anguish if Celtic manage to capture ten-in-a-row? Even nine-in-a-row would be bad enough, seeing as it would mean Celtic have accomplished the run twice, while Rangers have only done so once. Their best chance of stopping this from happening is ‘doing a Celtic’ and bringing in exactly the right man for the job.
Less than 10 months ago, the gap between Celtic and Rangers looked fairly minute. Now it’s a chasm. It goes to show how far a team can go in such a short space of time under the right guidance. Similarly, the wrong sort of appointment can put a club back years. It’s imperative Rangers get the right man, otherwise it’ll be another cakewalk for Celtic next season, and probably the season after as well.
Celtic have swelled their coffers this season, and that’s without selling any of their top stars. If the money is properly reinvested into the squad in the manner we’d all expect, they’re likely to make it back to the Champions League group stages yet again next year. With Rangers struggling off the park, the financial gap with continue to grow. They need to get someone who can level the playing field, and not panic into bringing in the first decent candidate who shows an interest.
If they do take their time, chances are second place will be out of sight. It’s bad, sure. Rangers have a budget which still dwarves that of Aberdeen. But it’s not the end of the world. It’s unlikely at the current time, even if the malaise continues for another few weeks, that Hearts will be able to beat Rangers to the finish line. The club will still be in Europe if they finish third. They’ll want to finish second, but other than an extra £250k, it doesn’t do much for the bottom line.
Rangers must take their time. Otherwise, they could strengthen Celtic’s bid at making history.