Two inquisitions, both staged in Glasgow over the past week, have produced melancholy spectacles for Rangers supporters. One is the ongoing trial of Craig Whyte at the High Court, where the man who bought the club from Sir David Murray in May 2011 is alleged to have acquired the Scottish football institution by fraudulent means – an accusation that Whyte has denied.
The other was played out at Hampden Park and Ibrox, in consecutive Old Firm derbies, after which the unanimous verdicts were that this Rangers squad is not remotely in the same class as Celtic. In the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final, few Rangers fans left before the end of the 1-0 defeat but, with 15 minutes remaining on Saturday and Celtic leading 4-0 – and en route to a historic record score for an Ibrox derby – thousands were streaming through the exits.
What must concern the Ibrox board is how long they can depend upon the fealty of the Light Blue faithful, who bought the maximum possible 43,000 season tickets for this season on the assumption that they would witness progress towards restored parity with Celtic. Their belief was fuelled by Rangers’ victory over their arch rivals after a penalty decider in last year’s Scottish Cup semi-finals.
That success, though, was achieved against a Celtic side under the new age-style management of Ronny Deila, whose inevitable departure preceded the far steelier regime of Brendan Rodgers. Celtic have now turbocharged their way through a Scottish Premiership campaign to a 27-point lead over Aberdeen and a 36-point advantage over Rangers.
How many Rangers fans would have invested in season tickets had that been a likely prospect? And, having witnessed six Old Firm fixtures across all three domestic competitions, which began and ended with 5-1 defeats, how many will think twice about investing again?
Kenny Miller, the only Rangers player to have emerged from the last eight days with credit – and the scorer of his team’s only goal in three hours of football – made a point of praising the supporters and declaring his belief that they will not desert the cause. “The fans have been outstanding throughout what has been a tough, frustrating season for everyone at the club,” said the 37-year-old striker.
“We’ve not hit the levels we should have been expecting to hit since day one with the draw against Hamilton here. We’ve had no level of consistency or performances. Our best run has been four wins in a row.
“That’s not good enough to be up there challenging for the top, so there’s a lot of work to be done for us to be better next year.”
It is impossible yet to judge Pedro Caixinha’s ability to overhaul Rangers’ fortunes to a respectable degree, although early doubts have emerged. No coherent tactical plan was apparent against Celtic at Hampden Park but Caixinha evidently believed that, with more passion and energy from his players, he could profit from fielding a midfield diamond at Ibrox.
That mirage evaporated within seconds of the kick-off as Celtic began to rampage straight through the heart of Rangers’ tissue-frail deployment.
At half-time Caixinha replaced a forward, Joe Dodoo, with a midfielder, Andy Halliday. When the switch failed to stem Celtic’s attacking tide he sent on Joe Garner for Emerson Hyndman, a forward for a midfielder.
As Caixinha picks his way through the debris of his battle plan, he can now have no delusions about the wholesale reconstruction he must oversee during the summer. A telling factual oddity is that Celtic have scored more goals on their two visits to Ibrox than the combined total bagged on the same ground throughout the season by Garner and Martyn Waghorn, whose cumulative haul has been six.
For the rampant league leaders, by contrast, the vista is of endlessly beckoning sunlit uplands, although experience cautions that the landscape contains crevices in the form of hazardous Champions League qualifiers.
As the Hoops fans relished a spectacle which saw half of Celtic’s outfield starters – Scott Sinclair, Leigh Griffiths, Callum McGregor, Dedryck Boyata and Mikael Lustig – find the net, they amused themselves by cheering each Rangers substitution. So emphatic was Celtic’s display that Lustig deemed it their best of the campaign on the home front.
“We scored five goals but if we had been 100 per cent clinical it could have been closer to double figures,” he said. “I think it was the most satisfying performance of the season in domestic terms.
“I don’t know if this proves the gap is getting bigger. There were two teams out there but let’s just talk about our performance, which was brilliant. They tried something new and they couldn’t touch us.
“That’s why we work really hard. It is easy to think we will have an easy week now and have fun on the training ground, but it’s not like that.
“We always have something new we have been learning during the week. We take care of our bodies and work a lot on tactics. That is why we are so good now. We never stop.”
Lustig’s words constituted a manifesto for total domestic domination.
Meanwhile, Rangers – yet again in a passage which began with the events now being dissected at the High Court in Glasgow – must rely on their careworn supporters to engage in another massive exercise in crowdfunding to stand any chance of providing effective opposition.