Rangers manager Michael Beale has had plenty to say since coming into the role at Ibrox, but as Celtic hoisted the League Cup trophy high above their heads, much of the talking wasn’t done on the pitch.
The Ibrox gaffer has shaken things up at the club since coming in during the World Cup break, with Rangers’ run of 13 wins and one draw heading into the showpiece Hampden clash a cause for optimism.
But as the club wheeled out of the national stadium hours later, licking their timid wounds and the Ibrox support still shell shocked by our approach, scrutiny has intensified on the Rangers manager, really for the first time.
Whilst many of this squad, serial losers at the crunch by this stage, have come in for criticism from supporters, this is the first moment in Beale’s tenure that his credentials and capabilities are being openly debated.
The manager appealed for calm at the final whistle, with Rangers still *technically* fighting in the Scottish Premiership and a few matches from Scottish Cup glory.
At least one of those trophies will be necessary to stop Celtic gaining yet another treble and if that happens, any appeals for calm will be laughed out of the club.
Saying the right thing will only get you so far, Mick.
Rangers pressure on Michael Beale after Celtic defeat
Heading into the game, Rangers had begun to look like themselves at times under Beale, but still lacked the consistency of performance or identity that the support are craving.
Celtic, on the other hand, have been a relentless juggernaut and buoyed by substantial investment into the playing squad, look capable of breaking even more records in Scotland this season.
Michael Beale looked to land a blow on that investment by branding Ange Postecoglou “lucky”, a soundbite which has lingered in the air up to this meeting.
The Rangers boss has also been so forthcoming with the media, talking a good game and seemingly fostering a more positive atmosphere within the squad.
Mind games however have proven to be folly for Michael Beale, who has made himself look foolish and even armed the pundit who shall not be named with all the ammunition in the world.
It’s been an immature and inexperienced approach, with Rangers still mentally behind Celtic and Michael Beale not believing his own hype heading into the match.
It even filtered into the squad with Fashion Sakala, boasting the Ibrox side was the better team heading into the game, left thoroughly embarrassed and clearly feeling the pressure on the field.
There has been a Caixinha-esque focus on token gestures – suits returning, goals given v Partick Thistle, flowery soundbites over what it takes to play for Rangers – over the actual victory and trophies the club’s fans crave.
A resoundingly popular figure heading into the League Cup Final, that defeat to Celtic has taken the Rangers manager down a peg or two in the collective psyche of the Ibrox support.
There is a way to lose a game, and Rangers’ tepid, uninspiring and defensive performance in the 2-1 defeat was not it.
Managerial mistakes cost Rangers at Hampden
Michael Beale had the opportunity to practice what he preaches by throwing the likes of Nicolas Raskin and Todd Cantwell into the game but stuck with old heads and those perennial losers we’ve talked about.
Rangers also set up to soak up pressure and relinquish possession to Celtic, focusing on trying to free Fashion Sakala but in turn allowing our Old Firm rivals to settle. It was devastating.
There is a mental thing to setting up defensively in a cup final, the kind of tactics employed by lesser teams in the third round in the hope of overcoming their more glamorous opponents.
That we didn’t go out to properly hurt Celtic is astonishing and it’s a Cup Final approach which quite simply will not wash at Rangers. And this from the man who “gets it”.
Glen Kamara and John Lundstram, both either focused elsewhere or not good enough to play in our XI, were light years off their Celtic counterparts and seemingly couldn’t track a run if their life depended on it.
At half-time, with Rangers 1-0 down, every single bluenose on this blue planet knew that change was needed in the middle of he park. Michael Beale didn’t think so.
Whilst you can’t subscribe for Sakala’s astonishing miss, Rangers waited until they were 2-0 down before changing the game, Beale’s second major mistake in a match defined by mismanagement.
By this stage both Kamara and Lundstram had been booked, whilst the ineffectual Tillman was also hooked in a treble substitution.
And then, when the club did get back into the match, the Rangers boss seemed to completely suck the momentum out the game by subbing off the goalscorer Alfredo Morelos.
On came Antonio Colak, who was about as much use as a chocolate teapot, and Celtic shored up the game with time wasting tactics which our seemingly experienced squad could not handle.
The pain of the defeat, and the clear mistakes of Michael Beale, has a glum feeling over Ibrox with Rangers still clearly some ways away from where the fans believe it needs to be.
But for the first time since he came into the club, there’s now major scrutiny and doubt over whether Michael Beale truly is the man to take the club there.
When it came to the crunch, the former Steven Gerrard assistant’s Hampden bottle crashed and given the club’s recent standards in terms of trophies, it’s an ominous warning.
Meanwhile, the perennial absence of Kemar Roofe continues to cost the club big.