There must be an end to all good stuff. And so it was that the remarkable streak of 27 unbeaten games by Rangers earlier this season came to an abrupt end on Wednesday night in dramatic fashion against St. Mirren.
When Steven Davis equalized in the 89th minute and looked to have kept Rangers in the Betfred Cup, it looked like Steven Gerrard’s side had answered all the questions about their potential. Only a few minutes later, however, at the other end, it was Conor McCarthy who headed the ball in and immediately all questions about the potential of the Ibrox side were back on the agenda.
Particularly, and it must be said, by the Celtic team’s supporters. Celtic fans unexpectedly spoke up again and talked about their favorite subject – even before their displeasure with their own board – namely Rangers’ misfortunes, having mostly maintained a low profile over the last two months.
However, a special note to Jim Goodwin and St. Mirren before we get to the “Old Firm” bickering, which I hope does not come across as tokenism. If you do not count the games against Hamilton and Motherwell, Goodwin has led the Saints to an outstanding streak of 10 unbeaten games. The feat is all the more impressive given that six straight losses were previously conceded by the Saints, and both the coach and his squad deserve credit for putting behind them an incredibly difficult season.
It would probably suit Goodwin that much of the media focus will fall on the opposition and its value to him after the shock win over Rangers as he looks to transfer St Mirren up the Premiership table quietly. A final showdown with Hibernian or St. Johnstone could see the semifinal against Livingston.
Hibs are rightly favored to win the cup, but if they continue to play with the same tactical organization, defensive discipline and energy they did last night, St. Mirren has no one to fear.
And as for the defeated opponent, it would have been difficult to make another disappointing exit in the cup, particularly because Celtic had already been eliminated against Ross County. And, considering their excellent shape since the beginning of the season, it has been difficult to understand.
However, Rangers and their fans should not lose focus despite the schadenfreude coming from all directions. Overnight, they did not instantly become a poor team, as bland as their Paisley success was at times. Their answer to the season’s first real setback will be fascinating to watch, though.
In the invincibility of Rangers, Celtic are betting on this crack, being another crack to close the 16-point gap by the weekend at the top of the Premier League table.
Tomorrow afternoon at Ibrox Stadium, Rangers host a fully out-of-form Motherwell side, giving them the perfect chance to bounce back from the disappointment of recent weeks as Gerrard’s side return to full fitness. If they can make up a 16-point difference, it will be a welcome psychological boost after the disappointing cup exit, even though Celtic have three games in hand.
“The game against St. Mirren, however, showed that Rangers, who were considered theoretically capable of beating the “Invincibles” of Brendan Rodgers only a few days ago, are very capable of putting more than a glove on a team. That will give hope to Celtic. In the short term, with a win against the Steelmen, Rangers will try to remove the hope, but what about the capacity of the team to withstand pressure when it comes to the bottom of the domestic competition?
Since arriving in Glasgow, Steven Gerrard has won zero out of seven trophies. His Rangers side was only excluded from a cup competition against Celtic once in that period, when they struggled to convert their undisputed dominance into a victory in the Betfred Cup final last season.
In Gerrard’s first season against Aberdeen, they were also excluded from the Betfred Cup and Scottish Cup, and lost to a weakening Hearts side at Tynecastle in the quarterfinals of the Scottish Cup.
Needless to say, after their first cup loss to Aberdeen at Hampden, when Gerrard had to justify the offside rule to the hapless Umar Sadiq during the game, the Rangers side Gerrard inherited has improved almost beyond recognition. Despite impressive outcomes in Europe and sparkling form in the domestic league this season, however, the truth remains that