This time last season, things weren't much better in a domestic sense; the league was again all but gone but we were showing some resilience at least. We had just beaten Celtic after extra time at the same stage of the Scottish Cup and, despite losing 1-0 away to RB Leipzig a year ago today, we eventually went all the way to Seville. Unfortunately, we couldn't quite bring home that trophy after losing on penalties but a huge amount of credit was due to the players as they recovered to beat Hearts - also after extra-time - a few days later at Hampden. 

From that victory and positive end to the campaign, fan confidence was refreshed for a title challenge this season. Although we lost important players like Aribo and Bassey to big money transfers, reinforcements were brought in and it was hoped other previously injured players such as Morelos, Roofe and Helander could contribute to a 56th title. Indeed, a fairly positive start was made to 2022/23; CL group stage qualification was achieved and by the time we travelled to Parkhead in early September, we also remained unbeaten in the league.

Unfortunately, although our results had been decent, our form was unconvincing and we not only capitulated to a 4-0 defeat that day but went onto a dreadful run in the CL, picked up a variety of injuries (including to Tom Lawrence, Rabbi Matondo and Connor Goldson) which immediately put us on the backfoot domestically as well. Poor results occurred through October and November ahead of the World Cup break and, despite the departure of manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst and the appointment of Michael Beale, the gap to Celtic - a team rarely dropping points in the league - never looked surmountable thereafter.

Nevertheless, our form had improved somewhat. We should have beaten Celtic early in the New Year and, under the new coaching team - along with the additions of Nico Raskin and Todd Cantwell in January - it did feel that this Rangers side could finish the season strongly and, at the very least, make things difficult for our rivals. However, a meek performance in the Scottish League Cup final two months ago and a somewhat unlucky (though equally self-harmful) defeat in the league three weeks ago, soon changed that perception.

Suddenly, players looked even more tired; the manager appeared flustered and fans were losing patience again. Add in Sunday's loss to Aberdeen where we not only failed to score but conceded two avoidable goals, then critics were soon pointing out the same flaws that we've seen right across this campaign. A failure to take opportunities, the concession of cheap chances, questionable fitness, vague tactics and a team mentality that appears inconsistent at best. Is this a squad that lacks belief, one that is mentally and mentally exhausted after 116 games over the last 12 months alone or is it just a simple lack of quality and depth?

A cop out perhaps, but I'd suggest it's a combination of all three. 

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For example, I don't doubt that there is a belief issue in some bigger games but this team have also shown fairly impressive mental fortitude on many occasions. Yes, you can absolutely label key players like Tavernier, Goldson, Kent and Morelos as losers after so few trophies in their time here but I'd also suggest that too much has been asked of too few. That takes us to the exhaustion issues touched on above and onto quality and depth as well.

Rangers has a huge first team squad and if we include younger players such as Devine, King and Lowry, the total is 30. That should be more than enough to deal with the rigours of a Scottish season and the demands of a European campaign beyond Christmas. Yet, for the last 12 months alone, Rangers have been without half of those players for extended periods. McCrorie, Yilmaz, Goldson, Davies, Helander, Souttar, Jack, Davis, Hagi, Lawrence, Matondo, Lowry, Colak, Morelos and Roofe have all missed months of action - that's 15 players unavailable across the season; many of whom that would have allowed us to reduce the burden on others in the squad. Surely, any team would struggle to cope with that or is this just a convenient excuse?

I share and understand the criticisms - I don't think I've ever watched a more frustrating Rangers side that is so consistently inconsistent. Throughout most of our games you can point to periods of attractive football where we dominate possession, move the ball quickly and create large numbers of chances. Unfortunately, usually in the very same games, we fail to score, appear to lose momentum, leave gaps, struggle on the defensive transition and concede far too many goals. This happened under Gio and, despite a general improvement in results, the same flaws remain obvious under Beale. 

In that sense, recent criticism of the Englishman is merited. Although still an inexperienced manager, he is an experienced coach and has good knowledge of much of our squad. That was why he was - initially at least - able to turn things around fairly quickly and go on the kind of unbeaten run that is needed to win the Scottish Premiership. And, as much as we're all disappointed with the recent losses at Parkhead and Pittodrie, I do believe there has been enough signs of improvement to offer Beale the benefit of the doubt. Especially if we consider he should be able to offer a more obvious stamp on things with squad changes over the summer.

Even so, the remaining games this season will prove important. After all, another loss on Sunday would result in yet another treble for Celtic and, if we can't also beat them at Ibrox next month, that would mean five Old Firm games without a win under Beale's tenure. Such poor performance cannot be ignored and would put him under immense pressure from many fans and with recent boardroom changes brought abut by fairly mild protests, Beale would be in a difficult position.

But that hasn't happened and, indeed, who's to say we don't win this weekend and again in a few weeks? After all, we beat Celtic in last year's semi-final; showing the kind of collective mental and physical strength to come back from a goal down that we'll need to demonstrate this Sunday. And we showed enough quality at Ibrox in January to perhaps allow a victory at the same venue in May. We also seem to do better when approaching Old Firm matches as underdogs. That's an issue in itself but whilst winning both games would not make up for losing another league title, surely it would permit us to approach next season with some confidence?

As discussed above, there remain too many doubts about this Rangers squad to put much faith in them delivering the kind of success this club demands. Changes will be needed throughout the dressing room - not just in the summer but in January too - to bring about the improvements needed to offer a genuine league challenge in 2023/24. It's also fair to say, Michael Beale has yet to really show he can be trusted to deliver this success and the next month will certainly offer us more of an idea there. However, as much as Old Firm victories are increasingly important in a league that lacks any sort of competitive depth, I would suggest any kneejerk reaction to possible disappointment would be counter-productive to the continuity we need in the short-to-medium term. 

In closing, no matter the outcome of this season, I don't think we'd gain anything from changing manager again this summer. That's not to say any continued failure should be tolerated or excused; just that there have been enough signs for me that there is a platform that can be built upon further. Therefore, and as much as it's difficult (perhaps even tedious) to request, I'd consider patience a byword for the coming period. As much as we all know various changes are needed this summer, throwing the baby out with the bathwater should also be avoided. Let's hope Michael Beale can show his value this weekend.

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