Beneath the Liverpool legend, Rangers looked well-positioned to finish Celtic’s grip on Scottish football, but the wheels have come off.
Steven Gerrard will direct his Rangers side to conflict with Bayer Leverkusen in the last 16 of this Europa League on Thursday, but he does so as a manager under pressure.
While the Gers have excelled on the continent, especially seeing off Portuguese sides Porto and Braga to expand their European campaign so far as they could realistically have expected when they kicked off from St Josephs in Gibraltar on July 9, their quest to win their first national silverware because 2011 has dropped embarrassingly flat.
A 1-0 Scottish Cup loss away to Hearts, who sit underside of the Scottish Premiership with only 22 points from 28 games, last weekend finished those ambitions, together with Oliver Brozovic’s 58th-minute strike leading Gerrard to acknowledge he was questioning his very future at Ibrox.
“I am very disappointed. It’s the cheapest I’ve felt since I came to the job with a long way,” he confessed.
“On Wednesday night I was the proudest man in Europe since my players were outstanding.
“Everything we have worked on for a couple of decades, I could view it on the sidelines. I was proud as punch, it was incredible.
“But now for 90 minutes, I did not recognise anything. So I am feeling really low.
“Two seasons without a trophy is not good enough. It’s not what I am about.”
Only 11 weeks after committing himself to a new contract in Glasgow, he confessed he had some”serious thinking” to do after the Scottish Cup exit, which had been the culmination of a month of indifferent league form which saw points shattered into Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and St Johnstone, thereby virtually ceding the league into Celtic.
Optimists remarked that the Gers’ tally of 64 points was superior to what Celtic had attained at exactly the exact same stage last season, but the harsh reality was that their rivals were 12 points ahead of them this period, albeit with a match additional played.
And having issued a rallying cry at Tynecastle that should have seen his team react in a positive fashion at a house league game against second-from-bottom Hamilton, the answer was possibly their most embarrassing loss of the year.
Rangers could have boasted 31 shots and 69 percent of ownership, but the only objective of the game was scored by David Moyo 11 minutes into the second half. It was the fifth time in eight league matches they failed to win — over Celtic all season.
“With all due respect to Hamilton, that’s not an acceptable result at this bar. I will take responsibility for it. I hear the fans, I believe them, Nobody is hurting as much as myself and the players,” Gerrard said before a Sunday trip to Ross County
“So we certainly respect the response and will do everything we can to make them feel better as fast as we can. It is about actions now, instead of words.”
At the turn of this year, everything looked so different. While the Ibrox side sat next as the new decade dawned, they lay only two points behind their opponents with a match in hand, having promised what seemed to be a landmark 2-1 success in Parkhead, with Ryan Kent and Nikola Katic on goal.
The winter served only to stall Rangers’ momentum, while there were unconfirmed reports of a drop out during a training camp in Dubai that served to divide the dressing room in 2.
While the unity of these performances to conquer Braga suggest that’s not true, what has been evident on the field is that Rangers have lacked drive and character at crucial moments. Kent’s dip in form has coincided with the team’s recession, while they’ve lacked inspiration at crucial times much too frequently.
Along with this, the lack of Alfredo Morelos, arguably Rangers’ best player, last weekend because of another disciplinary issue — this time an inner one — was an additional undesirable sideshow that only served to further tarnish the club and Gerrard’s control over it.
As a player, he motivated Liverpool to a lot of famous comebacks from seemingly impossible positions, but as a supervisor, he’s never faced a catastrophe of this magnitude.
The bleeding must be stopped in Dingwall on Sunday, even when the national damage is already done.
Only pride is available today in Scotland before May, nevertheless, it has to be revived or else it’ll take something sensational from the Europa League to make sure Gerrard’s long-term future at the club.
What only 3 months ago seemed like a dream partnership is slowly morphing into a nightmare.