Ange Postecoglou has kept the new Ibrox manager Mick Beale at arms length since the former QPR boss replaced Giovanni van Bronckhorst as theRangers boss after the Dutchman fell nine points behind Celtic in the Scottish Premiership before the break for the World Cup in Qatar.
It was proving an impossible task for van Bronckhorst to maintain the momentum set by Postecoglou’s Celtic side this season. It’s true that van Bronckhorst lost the Scottish Premiership title to the Australian last summer but did lead the new Rangers club to it’s first ever Scottish Cup win and their first ever European final, where they missed out on the chance to lift the Europa League trophy after losing a penalty shootout to Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt.
But in Glasgow second place is failure and as the Dutchman arrived at Ibrox midway through last season inheriting a six points lead at the top of the league after the former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and his assistant Mick Beale, who had previously managed the Liverpool Under 23s, both left to join Aston Villa, it was a big disappointment for the Ibrox hordes to see Celtic sweep past them to win the title in a canter.
The European run though was a distraction with notable wins being achieved on the way to that Europa League Final in Seville. This season though Europe turned from chasing a dream to a living nightmare for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side as theRangers lost all six of their group stage matches to Ajax – 4-0 in Amsterdam and 3-1 at Ibrox, Liverpool (2-0 at Anfield and a hugely embarrassing 7-1 at Ibrox) and Napoli (3-0 defeats home and away). Celtic supporters we happy to join the crowd and bet on soccer for these matches and certainly enjoyed the outcome from all six hammerings for theRangers.
This all added up to the record worst ever showing in the Champions League Group stages since this format of European football’s premier club competition began.
Throw into the mix the 4-0 defeat at Celtic Park in September and you start to get an understanding of how things had gone badly wrong for the former Barcelona midfielder in his time in charge at Ibrox.
Beale was the man that theRangers board looked to to try to narrow the gap on Celtic but since his arrival the gap has remained the same in terms of points but with Celtic extending the goal difference advantage significantly and the number of games remaining reducing considerably.
Since resuming hostilities after the World Cup, Celtic and theRangers have both played seven games in the Scottish Premiership with both clubs winning six and drawing one. That was when they met in the Glasgow Derby on 2 January where a late Kyogo goal gave Celtic a 2-2 draw and prevented Beale on making any dent in Celtic’s nine points lead.
Other that that draw at Ibrox, which was obviously a better result for Ange Postecoglou than Mick Beale, Celtic have only dropped points this season in one game, a 2-0 away defeat at St Mirren back in September. That freakish result has the look of a one-off, bad day at the office, and the Celtic consistency gives the new Ibrox boss any hope that he can pull off a miracle. The problem for Beale is that the odds on it happening are widening with each passing fixture.
Next up for Celtic is a trip to Tayside to take on Dundee United. On the earlier trip to Tannadice Celtic won 9-0 so it’s certainly a fixture that Celtic fans will be expecting another three points. It’s an easier task for theRangers who are at home to St Johnstone, the side they knocked out of the Scottish Cup last weekend with a narrow 1-0 win at McDiarmid Park, in Perth. However Beale’s side are away to third placed Hearts in their next game while Celtic play Livingston at Celtic Park.
For Beale the cups increasingly look like his best bet for silverware this season and he has the League Cup Final showdown against Celtic on Sunday 26 February while both sides have favourable home ties in the 5th Round of the Scottish Cup.
Ange Postecoglou will probably not admit it but he will be super keen to join Jock Stein, Martin O’Neill and Brendan Rodgers in the list of Treble winning Celtic managers. If he achieves that then the pressure will mount on Mick Beale with next season being a win or bust for him in the Scottish Premiership.