Graham Ruthven: Kilmarnock loss showed why Rangers won’t win the title

Kilmarnock showed Rangers they were going nowhere in the race for the title on Wednesday and Graham Ruthven is doubting the chances of Gerrard’s men…

Within 11 minutes, it appeared that a defining moment in the Scottish Premiership title race had been witnessed.

That’s how long it took Jermain Defoe to score his first goal for Rangers, giving Steven Gerrard’s side an early lead away to Kilmarnock. By 90 minutes, though, Rangers’ title credentials had been defined in a different way.

A win at Rugby Park, maybe the toughest place to visit in Scottish football right now, would have made a statement about Rangers’ title chances – especially coming on the back of a win over Celtic before the winter break.

Equally, however, the 2-1 defeat that materialised made a statement of its own.

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In the space of the 79 minutes between Defoe’s opener and the full-time whistle, Rangers showed why they won’t win the Scottish Premiership title this season.

This is the game most will look back on as the night Gerrard’s side showed their fundamental weaknesses, making clear that Celtic would effectively stroll to an eighth straight top flight title.

Indeed, the damage caused to Rangers’ title challenge was made worse by Celtic’s emphatic 4-0 home win over St Mirren.

The result itself wasn’t entirely unpredictable, with St Mirren now slumped at the foot of the table, but in the performances of new signings Oliver Burke, who bagged a brace, and Timothy Weah, who now has two goals in two games, were the difference between the Hoops and the chasing pack was underlined.

But the difference between Celtic and Rangers is down to more than just personnel, although that is certainly a factor. It’s down to mentality, and Brendan Rodgers’ men appear to have the edge in that regard too.

Gerrard has done a lot to strengthen Rangers’ mindset as a team unit.

They are undoubtedly a tougher team to beat than they were last season, with the Ibrox outfit rising to the occasion more than once since the change in management – see their impressive run in the Europa League, where they only just missed out on a place in the last 32.

However, their peaks are far too frequently followed by dips.

This is what happened on Wednesday night, Rangers’ first competitive game since their Old Firm derby win at the end of last year. That win over Celtic put them level on points with the defending champions at the top of the Scottish Premiership table.

It should have given them a platform. Instead, it just raised them to a higher height from which to stumble from.

This has happened before. At the start of December, Rangers claimed an impressive 2-1 away win over Hearts.

At the time, that looked like being a landmark moment in their season, lifting the Govan outfit into top spot. Three days later, though, Rangers suffered a dismal 1-0 home defeat to Aberdeen.

In theory, Rangers should be the perfect cup team (although they were knocked out of the Scottish League Cup at the semi-final stage this season).

Gerrard is clearly capable of raising and motivating his players for individual matches, like the Old Firm derby against Celtic on December 30, but achieving a level of consistency game-to-game has so far proved too much.

Rangers fans were entitled to get excited after going joint-top of the table after the derby. Football as a sport deals in the currency of hopes and dreams, after all.

However, maybe now is the time for the Ibrox faithful to consider how far they have come this season.

Gerrard’s task upon his appointment was to close the gap on Celtic, and so far he has achieved that.

With Wednesday night’s defeat must come a level of pragmatism, as deflating as that may be.

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