Saturday 20 January 2018

Caixinha denies promising a title challenge

Rangers 0-2 Celtic

Stewards take care of a flare that was thrown onto the pitch at Ibrox yesterday. Photo: Getty
Stewards take care of a flare that was thrown onto the pitch at Ibrox yesterday. Photo: Getty

Roddy Forsyth

Rangers do not harbour title ambitions, according to Pedro Caixinha, whose disclosure might have been startling had it not been rendered redundant by Celtic's victory in the first Old Firm derby of the season at Ibrox, where goals by Tom Rogic and Leigh Griffiths stretched the gap between the sides to eight points after only seven games.

Celtic prevailed tactically, physically and psychologically to confirm the bookmakers' heavy odds in their favour, but what makes the prospects for the current campaign all the bleaker for the Rangers support is that this was not only a quotidian victory for the champions, but also a routine event in the seven derby meetings since Brendan Rodgers began his tenure in Glasgow 15 months ago.

Rodgers also set the tone of the week's build-up by declaring that Rangers' summer spending had been a sure indicator of an assault on the championship, an utterance that sucked his Ibrox counterpart into an ill-advised response in the aftermath of defeat. "We never said we'd make a title challenge," Caixinha said.

"We just said we'd take it game by game. That's the reality. We're eight points behind the leader."

Caixinha, though, once again faces an indictment about his tactical nous.

Having exposed Rangers to the worst defeat by Celtic ever on their own ground by fielding a midfield diamond in the final derby of last season, this time he gambled on Carlos Pena's ability to cope with the demands of a notoriously intense fixture.

Celtic fans celebrate the final score of 2-0. Photo: Getty
Celtic fans celebrate the final score of 2-0. Photo: Getty

It would have been a questionable decision on any Old Firm occasion but it was inexplicable in view of the selection difficulties which had presented themselves in other key areas of the pitch.

Caixinha had been forced to remedy the loss of the hugely experienced Portuguese defender, Bruno Alves, by granting the teenage centre-back, Ross McCrorie, his first start alongside Fabio Cardoso. The consequence was that Rangers took the field with two Old Firm derby debutants at the heart of their defence.

The left of the rearguard was also a patched job. Rangers' captain and left-back, Lee Wallace, was injured against Partick Thistle on September 15, while his replacement, Declan John, came off with a thigh knock during Tuesday's second instalment against the Jags in the Betfred Cup, which meant a return for Lee Hodson.

With Celtic close to full strength, the surprise was not that they got behind the Rangers back line repeatedly, but that they failed to inflict damage before half-time.

Celtic's Scott Brown celebrates. Photo: Getty
Celtic's Scott Brown celebrates. Photo: Getty

As the proceedings wore on with parity maintained, young McCrorie showed admirable composure to take on Griffiths, by the interval, though, it was evident that Pena - Rangers' most expensive summer signing at around £2.4m - was well off the pace.

Caixinha, however, did not make the obvious substitution of Kenny Miller or Jason Holt for Pena until after Celtic had taken the lead four minutes after the break when Rogic shot home from a Griffiths corner that Rangers failed to clear. Obliged to chase the game, Rangers paid the price when McCrory was caught on the turn by Griffiths, who rifled Celtic's second beyond Wes Foderingham.

The Rangers manager was also quizzed about his spat with Scott Brown as the teams left the field at half-time. Caixinha was incensed that Brown applied an elbow to Alfredo Morelos without sanction from the match officials.

Caixinha said: "Scott Brown was coming off and I told him: 'You do that, but if I was on the pitch you wouldn't.'

"I wouldn't have allowed him to put his elbow in my face. If someone does nothing, I have to defend my club, my players and the truth of the game. I didn't hear what Brown said to me when he came off. It was a shame that I couldn't play because I know the mentality I have."

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