Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Kaunas 2, Rangers 1 - Over and Out

Farewell Europe. What a difference a close season makes. After the UEFA run last year Rangers crashed out of Europe tonight after losing to Kaunas.

For those readers who enjoy the discomfort of either of the Old Firm I suppose now is the time to have a hearty chuckle.

For Rangers this is a truly shocking result. Where did it all go wrong? Hmmm.

Kaunas, although inferior on paper, had more match fitness. Carlos Cuellar and Barry Ferguson were missing. The new signings hadn't the luxury of time to gel.

And, simply, Rangers were poor tonight. So poor in the second half that you wonder if they can play that badly again. If they can then this year will be more of a struggle than anyone would have predicted a month ago.

But there are other reasons. I wrote earlier today that Rangers stretched every sinew and maximised the ability of this group of players to reach the UEFA final last year. In doing so they played a defensive style that meant they had to ride their luck against better teams.

As many of us predicted Walter Smith - stubbornly, arrogantly - refused to change that style. That meant tonight Kaunas - again I stress a cheaper and inferior side - were invited to come at a Rangers team that ran out of ideas at one all. This Rangers team had this result coming. It's a very expensive lesson.

Where now? Smith has to change the style, there is no question of using the SPL as a warm up for Europe this season, they need to be more positive. Kris Boyd should be given a chance, the signing of Kenny Miller might well begin to look a major mistake. Signed to play in Rangers' European style where does Miller fit now?

Money? 90 minutes in Lithuania have created a chasm between the two Glasgow clubs. Rangers may need to sell to balance the books: Carlos Cuellar, able to play for anyone in Europe this season, suddenly looks a whole lot more available than he did this time last week. If that happens Smith has a headache: David Weir showed tonight that to cope with the ravages of time he needs someone of the stature of Cuellar alongside him.

One game, one bad result. At this level that sometimes all it needs. Can we now see that this Rangers squad are just not good enough to play at the level the club aspires to?

I think, to an extent, that is the case and that brings a whole series of problems. Not only can Rangers not now afford replacements, they also find themselves in the unenviable position of paying too much for mediocrity. That means it becomes very tricky to recoup your outlay on players.

I say again, it was just one game. But, right now, Rangers are a club in crisis before the season has even begun.

A couple more bad results and Walter Smith is going to be hanging that famous club tie on a very shoogly peg!