On Saturday, Graeme Murty and Rangers face a formidable task. After a short trip east to North Lanarkshire, the Ibrox side will lock horns with a galvanised Motherwell team that made Celtic bleed in a 0-0 draw in their last game just before the international break.
Yet, what’s more pertinent to Rangers’ current situation is that they may well lose their grasp on second place if they fail to pick up a single point and Aberdeen overcome their guests, St Johnstone, later that day. And then all hell is likely to break loose.
This is because Murty’s stock has fallen considerably over the past month. Despite the blue half of Glasgow joyously looking forward to their Old Firm clash with Celtic earlier in the month – following a string of six, consecutive wins in the Scottish Premiership – the narrow defeat seemed to have knocked the wind out of their sails.
And when Kilmarnock won at Ibrox just just six days later it seemed as though the HMS Murty was not only lost at sea but taking on water at a considerable rate.
The current Rangers coach still has his job and will keep it till the end of the season, yet speculation in the media has been rife and fan forums have been lit ablaze at the thought of a new coach in the summer. Just three months after Derek McInnes rejected the job reports in Scotland have linked Kilmarnock’s Steve Clarke with the post and he most likely won’t be the last in the coming months.
However, before we start unravelling the red carpet for a new coach it’s worth pausing to see just how well Murty has done and if he deserves a little more than a quick conclusions after two, recent defeats.
For a start, the stats suggest the interim boss has done a solid job since taking over in late October of last year. Since his opening league match, the Gers manager has picked up, on average, 1.9 points per game. Although that may not be up to the task of matching Brendan Rodgers’ 2.27, it does beat Rangers’ main rivals, Neil Lennon’s Hibernian and McInnes’ Aberdeen, and sits level with this season’s manager of the year contender, Clarke.
Indeed, if we were to judge the Premiership season from points won on day one of Murty’s job at Rangers the Ibrox club would be sitting second just two points behind Celtic, while above Kilmarnock, Hibs and Aberdeen. Which is essentially all anyone can ask of a Rangers manager under the current circumstances.
Sure, Murty has picked up stick for the manner in which the club have dropped points or lost entire games to the likes of Dundee, Hamilton and St Johnstone, but the makeshift manager has also orchestrated three wins over Aberdeen, a draw against Celtic and currently still has Rangers fighting for a trophy in the Scottish Cup.
Although it won’t exactly bring any comfort to angry Rangers fans, the manager does deserve credit for keeping Rangers on track for second place after taking over from the circus show that was Pedro Caixinha’s time at the club all whilst doing so against the backdrop of an undoubtedly stronger Premiership.
Unlike in previous seasons, the three European spots below first place in the Premiership aren’t so easily acquired thanks to the improved form of McInnes’ Aberdeen, Clarke’s incredible Kilmarnock side and a Hibs team galvanised by Lennon’s unquenchable thirst for success.
To finish above all three sides while juggling the goings on at Rangers is no easy task and Murty has done a reasonably good job of it.
He has also proved to be an effective man manager too. James Tavernier is playing the best football of his career under the softly-spoken gent, Josh Windass has reinvented himself as a match-winning No.10 in recent months and Rangers’ back line finally look like a competent unit under the rise of David Bates at centre-back and the recently-acquired Russell Martin.
In almost every facet of this Rangers team Murty has applied his modest, reserved work and improved what was there before. And although this side may not be able to match Celtic they have undoubtedly looked like a far better unit and the second best squad in the country since Murty arrived.
Whether that’s enough to give him the job permanently is still unknown. But a new manager in June would not only have to contend with a third rebuild in just 12 months at Ibrox but also be forced to do so all while qualifying for the Europa League. Caixinha tried and never seemed to find his feet after bombing out of the continental competition.
Would any realistic target for the managerial post do a better job than Murty next season? We’ll just have to wait and see, but the current occupant of the role certainly hasn’t ruined his chances just yet as some might suggest.