EVERY year, we hear the “as low as it gets” line whenever a Scottish team loses in European competition. Last season, it was Hearts for going out to a team from Malta, the year before it was St Johnstone on the back of losing to a team from Armenia.
However, Rangers shock exit to the Luxembourg outfit Progres Niederkorn has to go down as the worst of all time for a Scottish side on the continent. As Gary Lineker put on twitter, it wasn’t even the best side in Luxembourg, but the side who finished FOURTH in the part-time League, who managed to overturn a 1-0 deficit to claim a famous 2-0 home leg victory.
This is the scale of how embarrassing a defeat this was for Rangers. They were playing a side who are part time, who had only scored one goal in their previous 13 European fixtures, had never won a continental game and are playing in a League who’s coefficient ranking is 48 out of 55 UEFA nations.
Rangers also can’t use the lack of competitive action excuse given that the Luxembourg domestic season also doesn’t kick off until August, unlike St Johnstone last week when they lost to a Lithuanian side 15 games into their campaign.
They can maybe point to the new signings needing time to bed in and they did have four players in last nights starting 11 who weren’t at Ibrox last season. However, even that doesn’t wash against a part time side who, across both legs, had ten players making their Niederkorn debut.
Quite simply, there are no excuses for Rangers shocking exit from the Europa League!
They should’ve had the tie put to bed before they got to Luxembourg having dominated the first leg at Ibrox, but lacked that cutting edge to add to Kenny Miller’s solitary strike. That left 50,000 Rangers fans going home unimpressed after their first European tie since 2011 and setting up a nervy second leg.
Even the second leg, they should’ve had enough to see off their opponents but it was a poor performance as they failed to get hold of the game and Niederkorn sensed they could pull off a shock result. Goals from Emmanuel Francoise and Sebastian Thill turned the tie on its head and, despite hitting the bar three times, Rangers didn’t have enough in them to get the away goal that would’ve seen them through as they slumped to a humiliating defeat.
Naturally, social media went into meltdown as rival fans taunted Gers fans, including “Rangers will be turning in their grave”, referencing those perceiving Rangers as a new club. Clutching at straws, Gers fans reminded Celtic fans of their defeat to Gibraltar outfit Lincoln Red Imps a year ago and pointed out that Aberdeen also lost in Luxembourg to Fola Esch this time last year. However, both sides done enough in their respective home legs to win the overall tie, whereas Rangers have suffered a massive financial blow by going out in the first qualifying round.
Last nights result will crank the pressure right up on Rangers Manager Pedro Caixinha. From day one, the man from Portugal has been setting himself up for a major fall with his ludicrous comments, from saying he’d inherited the best squad in Scotland, through declaring Aberdeen as being at the end of their cycle to no green boots at Ibrox. Results have been indifferent since he jetted in from Qatar and there is no evidence so far to prove that he is the man to take Rangers forward.
Of course, it’s too early to say Caixinha should be sacked given he only took over from Mark Warburton in mid-March but he needs to be fully aware that you don’t get time to deliver at Rangers and the jury is still out amongst the demanding Ibrox faithful. The current facts are this is a Rangers side who finished 39 points behind their great rivals Celtic and a convincing 9 points behind an Aberdeen side, despite having three times the budget over the men from Pittodrie. Now they are out of Europe at the first hurdle having spent nearly £8m this summer, with another £1.3m going to Norwich for Graeme Dorrans should the transfer go through as expected.
If Rangers are to claw back anyway gap on Celtic, and finish above an Aberdeen side who’ve been second each of the last three seasons, they need to do their talking on the park and not mouth off about their opponents. Right now, Pedro Caixinha cycle needs stabilisers if he’s to have any hope of remaining in the Ibrox dugout for the longer term.
Rangers defeat means that Scottish Football is in danger of seeing their UEFA coefficient plummet further down the rankings. With St Johnstone unlikely to overturn a 2-1 deficit in Lithuania (though I hope that I’m wrong), the pressure turns to Aberdeen and Celtic to reach the Group Stages of the Europa and Champions Leagues respectively. Should both fail then Scottish Football really will reach a new low, prompting even more “what needs done to improve our fortunes” debated likely to get ignored.
As for Rangers, they urgently need to get off to a good start to the domestic season and their influx of foreign players need to adapt quickly to the Scottish game. Failure to do so and their already impatient and loyal fans will be demanding that Pedro Caixinha gets on his bike and cycles as far away from Ibrox as possible.