We cannot say the signs were not there. Rangers had not truly kicked a ball in anger since mid April, that being the Old Firm semi, and indeed the form had gone from underwhelming to downright poor.
Fleeting glimpses of decency against mediocre opposition gave supporters a superiority complex, making us feel we were better than we were, just because we were comfortable against East Stirling or destroyed Linfield.
But the truth is Mark Warburton’s Rangers have gone completely off the rails with the plunge now totalling three plus months of frankly disappointing at best football with extremely patchy results.
For every half decent win away to Motherwell there has been a huge struggle to Hamilton. For a hard fought win in Dundee there was a crushing drop of points at Killie.
The signs have been there. Fans knew it. Social media has been filled with defiance yet concession that this Rangers team was not doing the business; and today’s tragedy at Parkhead summed up the utter plummet for all that it is. An embarrassment.
Mark Warburton is looking seriously out of his depth; he is making the same kind of mistakes as Paul Le Guen did all those years ago, by stubbornly sticking to a flowing game without variation; it did not work for the former Lyon boss with better players at Ibrox, so why would it work for Warburton with the downgrade by comparison?
It functioned at a lower level, to an extent, of course; Rangers were comfortable winners of the Championship last season even if the defence did not look overly assured and the midfield lacked balance.
But these issues were set to be addressed this summer. And while on paper the players acquired (Barton, Kranjcar to name but two) looked to have upgraded the team considerably, the harsh truth is Rangers are barely any better than last season, and that lack of improvement is being brutally exposed. It had simmered under the surface, with those unconvincing wins in the league this season flanked by poor draws, but it was not until today’s hyped-up trip to Celtic Park that finally this team and manager’s failings were truly laid bare.
The signs were already worrying with the team selection; some might call it bold, but foolhardy was a better adjective, to select an unfit Kranjcar and drop the season’s best player in Harry Forrester, while sticking with the painfully out of form Barrie McKay and chucking Garner out on the wing.
And while Joey Barton’s selection was a guarantee, his increasingly poor season shows no sign of improving any time soon, and he was left completely wanting in Glasgow’s East End.
Meanwhile his Croatian team mate was doing his level best to get sent off, possibly on purpose as his evident instruction had been to press – well, Kranjcar does not have a defensive bone in his body and putting him in to press off the ball was quite simply wrong. Eventually realising his error Warburton put in Halliday, who did bring some stability to the midfield, but the gap between the two sides had already been entirely highlighted late on as the home side strolled to an easily deserved 5-1 win.
At one point in this match the possession stat read 91% to 9% for the past five minutes; no Rangers team should ever suffer that, and it highlights how much thinking Rangers’ boss has to do.
From early on in this match a 4-3-3 formation was pinned back into 4-5-1 as it defended constantly, with only Garner up front as Miller filled in as an auxiliary RB; this Rangers team simply is not built to contain, nor is it built to counter, although Windass, one of Rangers’ few successes, sure tried.
Ergo it could not handle Celtic – defending when it did not know how to, struggling to even counter without having the tactic to do so properly, it limited Rangers’ attacking threat to all of effectively zero. Dorus DeVries only had one significant attack the whole match to deal with, and it was a goal for Garner.
As such Celtic contained the whole match in Rangers’ half, and picked Warbs’ side apart with ease.
This was not unlike how Warburton’s XI would usually take on weaker Championship sides, and that is what it felt like; a weak Championship level team struggling to contain the country’s champions.
And while many fans do rightly point to the fact that it is easy to blow out of proportion a loss at Celtic when better teams have also lost there, the manner of this execution pointed to deeper concerns.
Rangers have a dreadfully soft centre, and a lack of ideas – the form which has exposed these flaws continues on, and only Mark Warburton knows how he is going to remedy this.
The worry is, does he have the will or adaptability to do so?