Humiliating Old Firm defeat leaves Smith & Rangers staring down the barrel
CelticÃ¢ÂÂs utter domination of SundayÃ¢ÂÂs Old Firm match will have left many impressed, with Neil LennonÃ¢ÂÂs side finally looking capable of winning the SPL. But where does that leave Rangers?
Walter SmithÃ¢ÂÂs side have been gradually faltering and stumbling in recent weeks, and the weekendÃ¢ÂÂs 3-0 drubbing leaves Rangers facing a nadir with three more daunting meetings with Celtic yet to come.
Arguably the GersÃ¢ÂÂ greatest ever manager faces the very real prospect of ending his tenure at Ibrox, not celebrating on an open-topped bus as was hoped when he decided last summer that this season would be his last, but rather trophyless again, similar to scenario that saw him leave the first time round in 1998.
While Smith had an aging team back then, he has a small squad this time and the volume of games this season is throwing at them is taking its toll. SundayÃ¢ÂÂs match gave an alarming testament to that.
David Weir, for a long time a rock in RangersÃ¢ÂÂ defence, is now looking his 41 years while Madjid Bougherra - once a million pound prospect for teams in the English top flight - currently looks anything but.
The absence of Lee McCullochÃ¢ÂÂs combative style is a glaring loss, while the sale of Kenny Miller to Bursaspor is now looking to be a disastrous one as far as Rangers are concerned.
With Rangers most likely needing to win in Lisbon to progress in the Europa League and facing a massive eight point deficit in the title race - although with two games in hand - the unravelling of the Ibrox clubÃ¢ÂÂs season could well have started before our very eyes.
Most Gers fans wonÃ¢ÂÂt accept it, because those two games in hand would take the Ibrox side to within two points of the Bhoys, should they yield the full six points. But the most honest of Rangers supporters will Ã¢ÂÂ even if not publicly Ã¢ÂÂ admit itÃ¢ÂÂs all over for them now.
By comparison, Celtic have finally gelled as a unit and in particular the contributions of Gary Hooper - with his two goals yesterday taking his tally for the season to 15 - left back Emilio Izaguirre and central midfielder Beram Kayal have been priceless.
The signing of Kris Commons from Derby County has also given them another attacking option and although heÃ¢ÂÂs only played a handful of matches for the Parkhead side, heÃ¢ÂÂs looking like another great piece of business by Neil Lennon.
CelticÃ¢ÂÂs strength in depth has perhaps been their biggest advantage over Rangers in this title race - you only have to look at the likes of Efrain Juarez, Paddy McCourt and Niall McGinn - all of whom werenÃ¢ÂÂt involved on Sunday.
With RangersÃ¢ÂÂ financial problems hampering Walter SmithÃ¢ÂÂs running of the club, itÃ¢ÂÂs hard to see just when or how things can improve any time soon. Unless Craig WhyteÃ¢ÂÂs much discussed takeover can be ratified; the Gers are stuck in a rut.
Ally McCoist is due to take over for next season and even he must be privately wondering what heÃ¢ÂÂs going to be working with if his side finish the season without a trophy and the likelihood of funds being further slashed.
The reality is that Rangers, in their current form, are unlikely to catch Celtic, who will need to suffer the mother of all collapses in order to allow their neighbours and rivals a sniff of any silverware. The cold hard truth is the Celts are way out in front at the moment.
Maybe a harsh assessment considering thereÃ¢ÂÂs a League Cup Final coming up, not to mention a Scottish Cup replay involving both teams. But if the two sides perform at anywhere near the levels they did on Sunday, there will only be one winner - and Rangers will be left facing-up to a fruitless season.