Michael Beale talked a good game when he replaced Giovanni van Bronckhorst as manager of theRangers during the break in domestic football for the World Cup in Qatar at the end of last year.
Last season Dutchman had guided the latest Ibrox club to a Europa League Final against Eintracht Frankfurt and won the Scottish Cup for the first time in the club’s history but he had seen the six points advantage he had inherited from Steven Gerrard, who had abruptly left for Aston Villa, evaporate as Celtic, under Ange Postecoglou after an extremely challenging start to his time at Celtic clicked into gear. That happened up at Pittodrie in October 2021, with Celtic securing a first away win since February and Postecoglou’s side then went on an incredible run that van Bronckhorst’s side simply could not contend with.
Postecoglou told the Celtic support on Trophy Day last May that his squad would come back from the summer better and stronger but that was a warning that went unheeded by the Ibrox club. Their reality check came when the two sides met for the first time this season in September with Celtic’s 4-0 win flattering van Bronckhorst’s theRangers team.
Surprisingly in their next cinch Premiership outing Celtic suffered their one and only domestic defeat of the season against St Mirren in Paisley and that would have raised spirits among theRangers camp and within their support. It turned out to be nothing more than a one-off bad day at the office for Postecoglou’s side who have been relentless ever since.
By the time play stopped for the World Cup in early November reigning Champions Celtic had established a nine points lead over their Ibrox rivals and despite van Bronckhorst remarkable achievements earlier in the year, he found himself out the door, paying the price of coming second best in Glasgow.
Michael Beale had been a coach under Steven Gerrard and in that time theRangers won one major honour from the nine that they competed in. For context Callum Davidson at minnows St Johnstone won two major honours while the other six were all won by Celtic. That solitary success for theRangers came during the Covid season with Gerrard’s side adapting much better than Celtic to playing without their supporters in the stadiums to win the cinch Premiership at a canter. For a club formed in 2012 this was a major achievement and their supporters named the title win as ’55’ presumably as that was how many penalties that they were awarded.
Beale, after swearing his unconditional loyalty to London side QPR just a few weeks before, upped sticks and left to take up the vacancy at Ibrox. As pressure had mounted on van Bronckhorst, Beale had done the unthinkable by attending a match at Ibrox amid the speculation that Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s days as theRangers manager were numbered. Classy it was not.
Beale of course inherited that nine points deficit and quite understandably noted that the gap at the top of the cinch Premiership at that stage was NOT down to him. He argued that theRangers supporters should look at the points total from that point onwards and he noted that there were three cinch Premiership matches which could wipe out Celtic’s lead with three wins for his side. The incoming manager of theRangers could have benefited from a better education (which is always aided by a decent essay checker) before describing Ange Postecoglou as a lucky man because of the transfer budget that Beale reckoned the Australian had at his disposal across the city.
There was also a League Cup final looming at the end of February, this was delayed in the usual schedule to accommodate the break for the World Cup.
If Beale’s side could win those three cinch Premiership Glasgow Derbies he’d still need a favour from elsewhere as Celtic’s goal difference was also superior, or his side could outscore Celtic and catch up. And he was confident that he would lift his first silverware as theRangers manager in the League Cup final.
Credit were credit is due. In all the games until this weekend from December to last weekend’s 5-2 win over St Mirren at Ibrox, Michael Beale’s version of theRangers managed to match Celtic win for win in every single round of fixtures outwith their Glasgow Derby encounters. However rather than reduce Celtic’s goal difference advantage, the opposite happened with Celtic every week but one outscoring Beale’s side.
Those Glasgow Derbies still had to be won and for Beale he got his first chance at Ibrox on 2 January. Helped by an incredible decision to award theRangers a penalty and also Celtic being denied a stonewaller when Connor Goldson’s clear handball went unpunished by both the referee and also the VAR officials, Beale looked to be heading for a 2-1 victory.
But under Postecoglou, this Celtic team never stop and in the closing stages the country’s top goalscorer Kyogo Furuhashi got his first goal of the season against theRangers. It would not be his last. The game ended in a 2-2 draw and Celtic’s nine points advantage was maintained. Michael Beale now needed snookers.
Both teams kept winning until their next meeting, this time at Hampden for the League Cup Final and it was that man Kyogo Furuhashi who grabbed a double to bring the cup back to Parkhead with the final score of Celtic 2 theRangers 1, flattering Beale’s side.
The usual pattern resumed after that in the cinch Premiership with both sides picking up the three points in each round of fixtures until something had to give at Celtic Park on 8 April. Beale’s side were better this time around against a surprisingly under-par Celtic side but it was the same old story for the 2012 formed Ibrox club with another two goals from Kyogo Furuhashi – making it five consecutive Celtic goals against theRangers for the Japanese striker – and what turned out to be the winner from Jota, giving Celtic a 3-2 victory and increasing the lead at the top of the league to 12 points.
After theRangers won against St Mirren last Saturday, Celtic restored the 12 points lead with a comfortable 4-1 win away to Kilmarnock. Every week since Beale took over at theRangers his side played before the Champions, due to Sky Sports scheduling but for the first time it was Celtic’s turn to go first on Saturday. Callum McGregor gave Celtic a first half lead over Motherwell at Celtic Park in the final match before the cinch Premiership split but Motherwell’s Kevin van Veen scored a brilliant second half goal in a rare Motherwell attack to leave Celtic Park with a point and also leaving Celtic’s chances of competing an entire season with a 100% domestic record in ruins.
That gave Michael Beale the chance to reduce the points total on Celtic for the first time since taking the job by defeating Aberdeen at Pittodrie yesterday afternoon. The Dons currently have former Celt Barry Robson in charge as interim manager, former Celt Jonny Hayes in their team alongside the Celtic defender Liam Scales who is on a season long loan at Aberdeen. After the game Beale mistakenly called the Aberdeen boss Derek and it was Liam Scales who scored either the goal or the fluke of the season with what was regardless a quite incredible opener in a 2-0 Aberdeen win.
That means that on a weekend when Celtic dropped TWO points, Michael Beale’s side dropped THREE and the lead at the top of the cinch Premiership is now 13 points with just the five post split fixtures to play. Celtic now just need ONE win and the next game is going to be on the Coronation weekend with the fixtures to be announced today.
It’s highly unlikely that the SPFL will choose to play the Glasgow Derby at Ibrox first, to avoid Celtic winning the league there, so when that game is played it’s likely to be no more than a dead rubber for Michael Beale.
The Scottish Cup semi-final this Sunday is a different matter entirely. With third tier Falkirk playing second tier Inverness Caley Thistle in the other semi-final it’s going to be the winners of the Celtic v theRangers match that will go into the final as huge favourites to lift the Scottish Cup. For Celtic that would mean winning yet another Treble and for theRangers it would give them some silverware and obviously stop Celtic in their tracks in the pursuit of a clean sweep of the domestic silverware.
After the defeat at Aberdeen there is mounting anger and discontent among theRangers support with Beale’s position now being questioned. Losing on Sunday is only going to increase the pressure on the Englishman because in Glasgow, second best is nowhere good enough.
Michael Beale might be a ‘lucky man’ to make it to that dead rubber.