It’s come down the last day of the season, but on Sunday we’ll finally discover…
Rangers were superb on Sunday. Against a truly determined Hearts side that had taken the Scottish Premiership by storm, Steven Gerrard’s side quickly dismantled any delusions of grandeur and reminded Craig Levein’s travelling pack that they’d need to do a lot more before lofty suggestions of title challengers would gain any serious traction.
If Hearts had pondered over their recent form on the way to Glasgow and whether their new-found Gorgie confidence would transfer well to a historically poor venue for the Tynecastle side, they were quickly reminded of the reality of the situation just three minutes in to the game when a poorly-executed rush/offside trap from a Rangers free-kick allowed an unmarked Alfredo Morelos to rather puzzlingly pass the ball past the goalkeeper towards Ryan Kent.
Rangers would bag another two goals over the remainder of the game through Morelos and then Scott Arfield and perhaps should have scored another few before Jimmy Dunne headed home a consolation for Hearts. There’s no doubt that the performance really was outstanding and in many ways everything Gerrard could have asked of his side.
Here comes the rain on Rangers’ parade.
Although the Ibrox side were fantastic they were still, in fact, playing at Ibrox. Which, in the grand scheme of this season, slightly masks over the problems that have dogged Gerrard’s start in Glasgow.
Prior to kick off, BT Sports pundit Stephen Craigan theorised that a defeat to Hearts would put genuine pressure on the Rangers manager, but in truth the only notable chink in Gerrard’s armour is his team’s away form. And while wins over Rapid Vienna and Hearts are truly impressive, they won’t mean all that much if Rangers can’t get past Motherwell or Livingston on the road.
All but two of Rangers’ 14 points on the Premiership table have come from results racked up at home, while the Ibrox side have yet to win a single game on the road. Essentially, Gerrard’s team have effectively been perfect at home yet as we can see from their sixth-place spot in the league table that alone won’t do them much good. Sunday’s result, in a number of ways, didn’t really prove anything we didn’t already know.
However, the next month of fixtures surely will. After the international break Rangers will travel to Hamilton, where they’ll most likely face a stern test that they should overcome. Here they will surely pick up their first away win over the Premiership season. But then things get trickier.
While Gerrard may be preoccupied with Spartak Moscow coming to town, he’ll also have to contend with facing Aberdeen at Hampden just three days later in the League Cup semi final. The very same team that went a goal down but still managed to equalise late on at Pittodrie and damn Rangers’ away form from day one of the new season.
After that Gerrard’s side have to travel to St Mirren, Moscow, Hearts, Dundee and then to Vienna where they’ll most likely face Rapid in a crucial Europa League tie. In amongst all that Rangers have home games against Motherwell, Livingston, Aberdeen and, once again, Hamilton.
Even the most cynical Rangers fan would expect them to pick up at least three wins from those four home games. And when they do we’ll once again learn very little about the capability or indeed limitations of this team. Yet long before that we’ll surely know if Rangers had finally nailed down some form away from home and if Gerrard’s side were serious about challenging for this season’s Premiership title.
Sure, beating Hearts 3-1 in front of 50,000 adoring fans is impressive. But picking up the hard points on the road is something Rangers haven’t yet done in the Premiership this season. And until they do that blatant fault will hold them back from reaching their goals of challenging for the league title.