Old Firm point gives Pedro Caixinha plenty to ponder as Rangers enter brave new world

 • by Matt Gault
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This Old Firm wasn’t one to shake the established order in Scottish football. Celtic, despite dropping just their second point this season, still can’t see Rangers in their rear-view mirror. Absorbing but far from a classic, it wasn’t a game to send shockwaves through Europe either.

However, Rangers will certainly take much more stock in not only the result, but the manner in which they achieved it. At times, their football didn’t quite match the slick suit and designer stubble combination of new manager Pedro Caixinha watching from the stands, but it was effective in mostly nullifying Celtic – an immensely relieving feat having conceded five on their last visit to Celtic Park.

Rangers are likely to be restrained in any assessment of stealing a rare point away from Brendan Rodgers’s stiflingly superior side. So they should be: they remain 33 points behind their bitter rivals. Despite the gulf between them, though, this performance gave their new Portuguese coach plenty of food for thought and, crucially, a platform from which to operate and implement his vision.

The credit for this steely, spirited performance goes to Graeme Murty, of course, not the man set to oust him from the dugout. Under his tutelage, Rangers have managed three wins and two draws and, although the Old Firm yielded a point, it will feel like three when recalling their capitulation at Celtic Park in September.

The defence deserves much of the plaudits. Led by grizzled warhorse Clint Hill, 38 years young, and captain Lee Wallace, their nullification of Celtic’s attacking menace spoke volumes of Murty’s competencies as a communicator and organiser.

That they were able to reduce Moussa Dembele, erstwhile chief tormentor of Rangers, to virtual anonymity perhaps personified their focus and work ethic.

It was, up until Hill’s 88th-minute strike, going as per the script for the home side. Stuart Armstrong’s rifled finish in the first-half looked as though it was going to be enough to see Celtic marching on. But after the opener, the green and white onslaught never materialised, much to the increasing chagrin of the vast majority in attendance. Instead, Rangers dug in and battled tooth and nail, showing resilience and endeavour to plot a grandstand climax.

Before the Old Firm, Caixinha was a wildcard appointment charged with the unenviable task of usurping Celtic as Scottish footballer’s rulers. Now, he’s suddenly armed with an interesting platform, one which proves that with careful planning, investment and development, this current set of Rangers players can legitimately challenge Celtic’s reign over the next three years.

With Kenny Miller likely to leave when his contract expires at the end of the season, Caixinha will likely raid the transfer market for attacking firepower, if not to replace veteran but to follow up his own proclamation that he will strive to deliver a ‘winning and entertaining Rangers’ team.

Even if that creates uncertainty, the enterprising displays of James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn – who admittedly spurned a gilt-edged one-on-one with Craig Gordon – are a reminder of the attacking talent that already exists at Ibrox.   

It must be stressed though that Rangers – the club and supporters – will favour sober, measured analysis of their progress under Murty, a path which may betray their wild celebrations at Celtic Park on Sunday afternoon. While it was a solid performance, it did little to mask the fact that Rangers require significant surgery if they are to perturb Celtic in the grand scheme, and they know that.

Perhaps that’s why eyebrows have been raised at Caixinha’s appointment. He’s undoubtedly intelligent and well-versed in the technical side of things (he has a Master’s degree in training methodology), but the fact that he’s yet to stay in a managerial post longer than two years suggests he’s a risk when trying to achieve long-term stability.

Caixinha, a bullfighting enthusiast, practices a range of training methods and progressive ideas, but that may be supplementary in importance to the players showing the heart and gritty determination that spared them another bruising defeat to Celtic. That, more than anything, may carry them through this intriguing new chapter.

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