It's been a long, long working week for Rangers fans.
Last weekend was a write-off before it even really got started with a dreadful draw after dominating at Easter Road - made worse by Celtic dropping points the following day at home to Aberdeen. It was to get worse, however, just a few days later as Rangers yet again didn't learn anything from that game - nor previous matches against the Dons in Glasgow - as we completely failed to breach their defensive block at Ibrox on Tuesday night.
Understandably the reaction from our support has been extremely negative. Everyone from key players, to the manager, to the scouting team, right through to Mark Allen and Dave King have been the focus of the fans' frustration. Not enough quality, not enough character, not enough tactical awareness, poor signings, reliance on Bosmans and not enough investment from directors means one can take their pick for another two poor results as our inconsistency in 2019 perhaps cost us any chance of a trophy this season.
In that sense, no-one can argue the listed points are wrong. We do lack quality in the squad and we only need a few players to not be on their game (or nullified by the opposition) to effectively be impotent. We do lack character as well throughout the team: yes, we've shown we can compete in most games (nay dominate them) but lose a goal or miss a few chances then heads go down and the lack of belief is obvious. Tactical awareness is also key: I doubt many fans would have started the last two games with a different team or system but if the manager's preferred 4-3-3 isn't working (or has been countered) then he has to be prepared to change it quicker than he does. The same goes if certain players are not playing well - why wait until the 70th minute before making a change? With that in mind, is this delay down to a lack of faith in the manager's squad and, if so, who is responsible for that. Is it Gerrard himself, lead scout Andy Scoulding or Mark Allen who supposedly oversees all recruitment? And if that Director of Football system is failing, what responsibility do the board of directors and chairman take therein?
Ultimately though we do need to retain a sense of perspective. Yes, of course all the problems above are worthy of discussing and to ignore them would be daft. Yet, at the same time, we've all seen the good performances this season: those periods of games where our football has actually been outstanding and only that oft-seen lack of clinicality has cost us too many lost points. It seems a long while ago now but our performances in Europe had us all very positive and generally showed our 4-3-3 to be very useful in many situations.
Ergo, in this commentator's opinion, progress has been made this season under Steven Gerrard. We must remember this is the manager's first job and the raft of changes to accommodate his ideas and that of Mark Allen were always going to necessitate a bedding-in period. This also means more patience from the supporters - hard to find when being beaten by Aberdeen in Glasgow, in all three competitions for the first time - but I see few other alternatives to speed up the process of bringing back success. Gerrard has only had two windows and, whilst the jury is out on how successful these windows have been, one year isn't enough for any manager to instil his vision on a club. Are we to change manager every year and give them just a few months to overtake Celtic?
Progress made then? Yes, so far at least, we have improved. I've seen stats offered up by critics that we're no better off than under Warburton or Caixinha/Murty and I find that difficult to reconcile. There are definitely similarities in our weaknesses but we need only look at the league table to see we're better off. I'd also consider the Premiership to be as competitive as it's been in 30 years so whilst the Old Firm's budgets should mean a cushion between us and the rest, we dismiss well-drilled teams like Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and Hearts with wily, experienced managers at our peril.
Indeed, defeats like we witnessed the other night should allow us all to refocus. Derek McInnes may well have turned down the Rangers job last year and his teams are hardly Man City-like in style but he's not daft either and deserves respect. The same goes for Stevie Clarke, Craig Levein and, dare I say it, Neil Lennon. All played the game to a decent level and can clearly coach well too. Gerrard may have blown them all away as a player but he's a mere infant by way of comparison in the dugout.
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Fortunately, our manager is someone that doesn't usually shirk a challenge nor hide from criticism. He'll be as aware as you or I as to his and his team's faults. And it will be interesting to see how he reacts to waters as stormy as he'll have faced in several years. Of course he'll be wanting new signings to help but, to maximise any summer budget, he'll need to demonstrate further worth over the next 6-8 weeks. Realistically the eight point gap to Celtic is unlikely to be breached, but we have the same lead over Aberdeen and Killie so securing second place via a strong finish in the league is the least fans will expect.
With that in mind, and with us facing both Killie and Celtic over the next fortnight, the manager will require to provide points from these matches. Kilmarnock will likely look to mimic Aberdeen's well-organised resistance tomorrow so Gerrard has had a few days to come up with a different tactical plan to get around their low block and physical midfield. Meanwhile, at Celtic Park on the last day of March, the usual 4-3-3 might be best as we look to match what we did to Lennon's men three months ago at Ibrox. Being able to move between different systems and formations isn't something we've done all that well this season - at least from losing positions - so doing so over the rest of this campaign will allay some of the fears over the manager. Tactical flexibility and pragmatism was something that Walter Smith excelled at, as well as getting the best out of many ordinary players, so if Gerrard wants sage advice, then he need only pick up the phone.
All things considered I think this will mean a formation change tomorrow with two players up front. Quite simply the responsibility forced on Alfredo Morelos each week is unrealistic and why sign Jermain Defoe for 18 months if you're not going to use him properly? As such, whether it's the diamond or even the glimpse and you'll miss it 3-5-2 we've seen a couple of times this season, one will be deployed this weekend. It will also be interesting to see if there are any personnel changes within that with several players in obvious need of being rotated out and rested. I'd expect to see Ross McCrorie and Steven Davis back in the starting XI along with someone like Eros Grezda from the bench. No matter the selection, three points need to be ground out and the players also need to show some mental strength and adaptability in front of what will always be an unreasonably expectant home crowd.
In that regard, it's hard to blame the fans for often being so demanding. As a dominant Celtic: be it football wise, in finance terms or politically off the field, retain a stranglehold on their way to breaking all records, our fans become ever more concerned about the future. I wholly share in that concern but stamping our feet every time we lose a game won't bring success back any quicker. Of course we're absolutely right to criticise and our, quite frankly, incredible loyalty since the frauds of 2012 means we're entitled to expect more but any criticism must be realistic, fair and in proportion.
It's often lazy and cliched to refer to Bill Struth when writing about Rangers but his words have never been more relevant for modern day Rangers fans:
"Never fear, inevitably we shall have our years of failure, and when they arrive, we must reveal tolerance and sanity."
Approaching a decade on on from the disgraces of David Murray and the cheats of Craig Whyte, Charles Green and the Easdales, the virtues mentioned become harder to come by but prevail we must. No matter how long it takes...
It's worth nothing there's a protest tomorrow in the square outside the BBC's Pacific Quay studios - just a 5-10 minute walk from Ibrox Stadium. Gersnet will be supporting this peaceful demonstration against regular editorially unfair reporting towards our club from BBC Scotland so I'll look forward to seeing you all there around 12.45pm tomorrow.
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