Humiliation highlights frailties of Rangers

RANGERS remain a long way from buckling, but a result such as Tuesday's 4-1 reversal at McDiarmid Park is a reminder of the high standards that need to be maintained if the league title is to be won with plenty to spare.

While there was an element of freakishness about the margin of defeat there was no question that St Johnstone deserved their first win over Rangers in the league in a decade. A rummage through the history books yesterday by St Johnstone historians also revealed that it was the Perth side's biggest ever victory over Rangers. Not since a Scottish Cup match in the early Eighties had St Johnstone managed to score even three times against the Ibrox side.

There was a humiliating aspect to the night which has to be acknowledged by Rangers, but such is their lead in the league they should be able to withstand so startling a defeat. Assuming both Rangers and Celtic collect victories this weekend then the Ibrox side can still pull 13 points ahead of their closest rivals by the end of next midweek's home clash with Aberdeen.

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But it was an uncharacteristic collapse by Walter Smith's side, who proved again their reliance on Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller. When this pair are not scoring – and the former has only found the net twice in his last nine outings, and these goals came in the same game against Dundee United – then Rangers are presented with a problem.

Steven Naismith found it hard going during his third game in a week on Tuesday, in what are still the early stages of his comeback from injury. Steven Whittaker, a helpfully reliable source of goals from full-back, has gone five games without scoring, his longest run this year.

David Weir's night began with him making history as Rangers' oldest player in 65 years, but he was characteristically quick to dismiss this achievement. Instead he focused on the need to heed the warning of what might happen if Rangers let concentration levels slip. The Ibrox side have earned admiration for their doggedness in a period of uncertainty at the club, but are simply not good enough to prevail when operating below par. If anything, Tuesday emphasised how consistent Rangers have been this season. It was necessary to report that the Ibrox side's defensive record meant the loss of four goals in one evening constituted a landslide. It is the first time in 30 league games that the Rangers defence has been breached more than once. Weir, who has been a principal reason for this record, aimed to treat the defeat as a cautionary tale.

"I don't think we can call it a freak result," said Weir, who as well as leading the team out strode into the record books at the age of 39 years, ten months and twenty days. "It was disappointing but it shows what is capable of happening if we are not on our game."

Part of Weir's skipper duties is to quell any sign of giddiness within the younger players at the prospect of a league title win. In public he declared that nobody in the Ibrox dressing room is getting carried away, but it would be unrealistic to imagine there has been no straying of thoughts towards a podium scene decorated with ticker tape.

"We genuinely don't think it is (over]," emphasised Weir. "There is a long way to go, lots of games to be played. Every team is capable of beating you. Nobody would have predicted that (St Johnstone] result but it shows what can happen if we don't approach the game well enough."

Smith also considered the wake-up properties of the result. But just as the Rangers manager did not go overboard about Saturday's 4-1 victory over Hearts, on Tuesday night he did not look as creased and careworn as Tony Mowbray did last week, on the eve of his departure from Celtic following the collapse at St Mirren. This is partly because it was easier to view a second league defeat of the season for what it was; a minor setback on the road to an otherwise impressively negotiated championship title.

But Smith also recognised what had been a deserved victory for a St Johnstone team who have on occasion illuminated this Scottish Premier League season. Two multi-goal wins over Hibs and Rangers compete with St Mirren's four goal thrashing of Celtic for the title of performance of the campaign, while an emphatic League Cup win at Easter Road stands as another impressive marker.

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Derek McInnes, the much-admired St Johnstone manager, saluted the "intelligence" displayed by his side as they held on to what their fans would have feared was a precarious lead in the run-up to half-time, following Sasa Papac's strike for Rangers to make it 2-1. Liam Craig's header before the interval enabled some tension to drain away, although even then it was difficult to begin discounting the visitors until the later stages of the match. St Johnstone's success in soaking up Rangers' pressure, while creating dangerous opening for themselves, was a tribute to not just the players, but also their manager.

It might amount to treason at Ibrox to suggest it, but McInnes' credentials are beginning to look rather more persuasive than those of former team-mate Ally McCoist with regard to the question of leading candidates to succeed Smith. Perhaps Rangers can yet source something positive from the second result in six days to shake Scottish football's firmament.