A derby hammering by itself isn’t a death knell for managers.
Take Tony Mowbray at Hibs for example. He lost three derbies in the space of one season where rivals Hearts won the match scoring four goals, two of those to nil, and against three different managers. He was still appreciated by the Easter Road support because they understood the context. Hearts were spending Lithuanian litas like they were going out of circulation and Hibs were still in a better place than they had been under Bobby Williamson, Mowbray’s predecessor.
Fans can be more rational than we often give them credit for. Which is why, in the aftermath of Celtic’s 5-1 victory at Ibrox last season, their biggest win at the ground since the 19th century, there wasn’t a queue of angry Gers fans waiting to get at the Portuguese head coach.
He inherited a team that wasn’t his - a team which had already been slaughtered once by their rivals that season - at a club where financial mismanagement off the park hindered the ability to compete with Celtic on it. Sure, there had been enough money spent and enough talent on the pitch to ensure that a 5-1 home defeat did not happen, but it wasn’t enough to turn the masses against him.
They won’t be so patient this time.
In the words of Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers, Rangers spent more money than their rivals in the summer window. Yet, little has changed thus far. Rangers remain plagued by consistent inconsistency, currently sitting third place in the table behind Aberdeen, who themselves haven’t began the campaign all that well. Defeat on Saturday and there’s a very real possibility, looking at the other fixtures, that Rangers could be in sixth place after this weekend, level on points with Hearts. You know, the club who sacked their manager on the eve of the season, went four games without hiring one and have yet to play a single game at their home ground.
There is a place in the Betfred Cup semi-finals to look forward to, but even that was secured with a degree of unnecessary struggle that we’ve all come to expect from Rangers: The Banter Years. Just like the match at Firhill the previous Friday, there was nothing to suggest that improvement had been made, like most of Pedro Caixinha’s tenure. He’s not necessarily worse than Mark Warburton, averaging 0.1 points per game better in the top flight, but it’s not much better either. The general consensus was that the previous boss underachieved at the top flight level, and the same can now be said of his successor.
The honeymoon may have already been over the last time Caixinha faced Celtic, having lost meekly in the Scottish Cup semi-final, but the divorce papers were still a long way from being delivered. When Progres Niederkorn dumped them out of Europe in embarrassing fashion, it was widely agreed that the best way to stop his career at Rangers from ending prematurely was to get closer to Celtic in the title race. On current pace the gap at the end of the campaign would be 32 points. It’s better than 39 but it’s not the improvement the critics insisted had to happen.
While no defeat would be welcomed by the home crowd, a hard fought 2-1 where a break or two went against them would at least give them hope that things are changing for the better, just slower than they may have wished. Another hammering, though, and it’s hard to imagine anything other than the crowd turning en masse against the manager.
If that happens, it’ll be interesting to see what the board do. It’s hard enough to ignore the will of the fans when there are 1,000 of them, nevermind 50,000. They may preach patience and rationality, but when it does it become rational to realise change is better than the status quo? Another 5-1 and we may get our answer sooner rather than later.