Has Gerrard blown Rangers’ best chance of silverware?
Rangers looked like title favourites after their December win over Celtic but everything has unravelled since.
The Scottish league system is often derided by football supporters, particularly south of the border.
Sceptics see the league as a predictable monopoly, a battle for second place behind Celtic.
So when Steven Gerrard was appointed Rangers boss the beginning of the new season, some fans sat up.
Finally, it looked as though there would be a genuine fight for the title for the first time since the Gers’ financial meltdown in 2012 and subsequent demotion to the fourth tier of Scottish football.
As it happened, Rangers lacked consistency when it mattered and they ended the season nine points behind bitter rivals Celtic, who picked up their eighth consecutive Scottish Premiership title.
There were mitigating factors of course – Gerrard was embarking on his first senior managerial position in the epicentre of arguably the fiercest and most vitriolic rivalry in world football.
He had to rip apart the squad he inherited – following the ill-fated appointment of Pedro Caixinha and a caretaker stint of Graeme Murty, the squad was an imbalanced mess and needed inspiration.
In his first season, Gerrard steadied the ship with experienced heads such as Allan McGregor, Scott Arfield, Steven Davis, and Jermain Defoe.
He also used his bulging contact book to bring in some promising youngsters, such as Ryan Kent and Ovie Ejaria, while Jon Flanagan chose to try and reinvigorate his career at Ibrox.
Rangers didn’t win the title, but they scored five more goals than Celtic on their way to second and onlookers expected an even closer challenge this term.
The squad was strengthened again – Kent was bought on a permanent deal, Greg Stewart and Jordan Joins, who both starred in the division last season were brought in to bolster the attack, while Joe Aribo shunned reported Premier League and EFL offers to join from Charlton.
After their 2-1 victory at Celtic Park in December, Rangers were two points behind Celtic with a game in hand – the ball was in their court.
Sadly, the extended winter break did them no favour and in the last six games they have picked up just 10 points.
10 points out of a possible 18 would be respectable in most other leagues, but such is the two-horse-race nature of the division, it is somewhat a disaster.
Both their defeats in that run have been unforgivable – the first was a 2-1 reversal at Hearts, who were bottom oat the time having endured an awful season.
Rangers let a 1-0 lead slip and the same occurred on Wednesday at Kilmarnock, having been in front until the 77th minute.
The latter caused Gerrard to publicly berate his players, citing a lack of proper “mentality”.
Gerrard is the leader of the ship – if he is questioning the players’ mentality, then surely his own mentality must be questioned?
Rangers don’t look the like the same potent force they were at the beginning of the season. They have not scored more than two goals in a game since December, after regularly thumping opponents in the infancy of the season.
Fans have bemoaned his team selections, while his substitutions have a habit of coming too late in the game to have any real effect.
Injuries haven’t helped – Jermain Defoe is absent meaning the is no backup strike to the ever-enigmatic Alfredo Morelos, while Filip Helander is missing at the back.
However, now more than ever, Gerrard must stand up and be counted. He has must lead Rangers from the rut they are currently under. And, he must bring silverware to Ibrox. The fans have suffered long enough.
Otherwise, he will become the latest entry to the long list of “great players but not-so-great managers”.
Dan McCarthy is a reporter who is very knowledgeable about football at all levels, and a keen Leeds United fan. He also follows darts, snooker, motorsport, and rugby league.