JANUARY TO MAY

We went into our winter break (which doesn’t really work in Scotland, does it?) just behind Aberdeen in third, and looked forward to some signings in January which would take our team from inconsistent and dropping points to winning games that would solidify second place. We had a friendly in Germany against RB Leipzig which would show us just where we were at against top European opposition, and our Scottish Cup draw had given us Motherwell at home in a potentially tricky tie.

 There were no new signings made by the time we played Leipzig, but despite that and the friendly status, the Rangers fans traveled in big numbers to watch us get an absolute shoeing. We lost 4-0 and it could have been double that, and I doubt those who were there had ever experienced a colder game in their lives. It did little for our confidence going back into the domestic games and could be described as a strange choice of match to take.
We came back to a doubleheader against Motherwell, in the cup at home and away in the league. We finally made some signings going into those games, with Toral and Hyndman joining on loan. The former started our cup game, with Hyndman on the bench, and as our midfield had struggled all season we hoped they would make a difference.
Toral is one of those players I knew pretty quickly a lot of fans would struggle with. His natural body language looks like he isn’t interested, which means any time he’s not playing well it’s interpreted as not caring (see the Daniel Cousin article for further discussion on that sort of thing). He had just recovered from an injury when signing and hadn’t played much this season, and you could see very quickly that he needed time to get up to speed.
Hyndman, on the other hand, made an instant impact. Hard-working, good on the ball, and a goal threat as well, he turned that game around on his debut from the bench and played well in the league fixture whilst scoring his first goal for the club.
We went into February thinking we may just have found a couple of players who could improve us, and we were going to Tynecastle on a Wednesday night. We had been really poor there before, but they were under new management in Cathro and we had to be better, surely?
That match was where the season truly turned. We lost 4-1 to a Hearts team that’s since been proven to be a bit of a mess, and everyone who had growing doubts about Warburton felt they were completely confirmed. Again, we looked like a side that didn’t have the fight to play for this manager, and we certainly looked like one not good enough to do what was being asked of them.
That defeat was quickly followed by rumours of Warburton courting the Nottingham Forest job. He dispelled those in his press conference in the lead up to the next game, but he was clearly riled by the criticism from our board, the fans, and the media. We drew 1-1 at home with Ross County in the next game, meaning we’d drawn with them in all three games this season against them, and the fan mood got worse.
And then Warburton was gone. In true Rangers fashion, it was all a bit of a mess. The club released a statement (which was very suspect in terms of how it was written) saying Warburton had resigned, then asked to rescind that, and we had decided to let him go. Warburton refuted this, saying he believed he was still Rangers manager. No one seemed to know what was truly going on.
Graeme Murty stepped up from the under the 20s to take charge while we searched for a new manager. His first game, a cup match against Morton, was a rather cagey affair as could be expected, but we won 2-1 and got past the immediate mess. The next two games killed our chances of second, sadly, as we lost away to Dundee and Inverness just as Aberdeen were starting to hit a cracking run of form. We were desperate for a manager, our team was lacking in leadership, and we were still worried that European qualification was under threat as third wasn’t guaranteed.
Suddenly, it was March. We had a game at Parkhead looming. There were genuine fears of the biggest defeat against them that we’d ever suffered. We needed a quick turnaround, and the club seemed to be taking a long time to hire a manager (and the less said about the Director of Football chase the better). Murty asked the players to go back to what they had been working on all season, and we got a couple of results. A last-minute goal won us a game against St Johnstone. We hammered Hamilton in the cup. And then it was time for Celtic.
Of the six games we played against them this season, this was the one we showed any sort of fight in. We were lucky to get a draw, of that there’s no doubt, but we weren’t completely overrun. Clint Hill’s goal was scored in front of our new manager, and Caixinha watched from the stands and must have found some encouragement in what he was witnessing.
Pedro came into a lot of questions. No one really seemed to know a lot about him, and he certainly had plenty to say about his approach. He won his first game comfortably against Hamilton, and we played pretty well in a more direct style than we’d seen so far. It was exciting after weeks of uncertainty.
Another month was gone, and into April we went. We had the Scottish Cup semi-final to look forward to, which was going to be the real test of Caixinha. Before that, we had a few league games to play, and on April Fools Day, we played Motherwell at home in the craziest game we’ve seen in a while. 1-0 down at half time, and lucky only to be one down, we made substitutions that basically meant we had 1 defender on the park, and around 5 forwards. The game finished 1-1, both sides missed loads of chances, and it was extremely entertaining if nothing else. It made us wonder if Pedro was actually a bit mental!
A few days later we drew 0-0 with Kilmarnock. Injuries had started to take their toll, and youngsters like Bates and Beerman had to come into the side. When we were travelling to Pittodrie, nine points behind them in third and having to play a young, inexperienced side in general, we didn’t really think we had a chance. We somehow managed a 3-0 win, which was a lucky one looking back, and thought Pedro had really found a way to get the most out of this squad.
A routine win against Partick at home took us into the double-header against Celtic. It was Hampden first, the last real game of meaning for our season. We lost 2-0, and we were very poor. Pedro asked the squad to have a go and press Celtic into making mistakes, but we never got close to them for the entire game. The last competition we could win was gone, and we had Celtic at home in the first of the games after the split to try and regain some sort of dignity.
We lost it all. A 5-1 defeat at Ibrox, our worst ever home result against that lot. If it was ever going to happen, it was bound to be this season, but it was horrific. Let’s not talk about it too much.
And into May, we had four league games left to play which we all just wanted to be done. A few scrappy wins surrounded the defeat to Aberdeen at Ibrox, a loss of a record we enjoyed holding over them for 26 years but in truth was pretty much meaningless. They wanted the win that night far more than we did.
Thankfully, that was it done. So as asked in Part 1, what should we take from this season? We had awful results, very few performances that were enjoyable, no real signs of progress in the vast majority of our players. We were miles behind Celtic, in a way that suggests it’ll take years to turn things around. A change of manager, more drama on and off the field, signings that let us down. Surely we want to just forget it all?
I think that would be a mistake. The journey back to the top of Scottish football has only really started this season for us. Everything before now wasn’t a journey, but a fight for survival, given the way our club was being run. We’re now in a far healthier position, with fights still to win but with an actual fighting chance of winning them. We’ll make big changes to the playing squad this summer, with some genuinely quality players being linked of late. On the park, we’ll be ahead of schedule somewhat. We just need to get the infrastructure right around that.
This season gave us a real target, told us exactly what is required. We were kicked while we were down, as we have been for years now, and we should never forget that. We now know where we need to get to, the very point of a journey, and we have been given even more motivation to get there. We’ve seen that some players we had high hopes for are unlikely to get to where we need to be. The board have serious questions to answer, and that’s exactly how it should be given everything we’ve been through. Going into next season, we’ll be scrutinizing the board, the manager, the team and even how the fans react to everything, and that’s all came from a disappointing season and years of things being a mess.
But that’s how it should be. We’ve been through far too much in recent times to ever think we can relax and take things for granted. We never should again. There are reasons to be excited going into next season, and things moving in good directions, but never forget that it’s about far more than results for the first team or feeling embarrassed at a defeat or poor performance. If we focus purely on that, we’ll forget the lessons we’ve learned this season. It’ll be easy to throw money at the problem, put things into a riskier position, and get better results. We shouldn’t be asking for that.
Next season will be better, I’m certain of that. I won’t even do ratings for the players over the season as most will never be seen in a Rangers shirt again. Let’s just remember how sh*t this all felt, how much others reveled in our pain, and take that going forward. If we keep the pressure up on our board to deliver whilst understanding that answers aren’t as simple as “let’s spend millions again”, we can take the disappointment of a poor campaign and use it to drive us to the right place. It might take some time, but memories of the low times will make the highs all that more enjoyable.
Into 2017/18 we go. If nothing else, it’s certain to be entertaining!
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