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After an inconsistent start that has included some historic losses, Rangers’ League Cup quarter-final against Partick could ease pressure on the manager

19 September ~ Pedro Caixinha’s Rangers career remains at a crossroads. After overseeing two of the worst defeats in the club’s history, the Portuguese manager must start producing more than hints of progress. Tonight’s second of three Glasgow derbies in eight days will see his talented team, who are still struggling with the pace and aggression of the SPFL, playing for a support which needs its patience rewarded.

September is too early to win the club’s first major trophy since liquidation but a League Cup quarter-final win at Partick Thistle this evening would bring it closer – the final is in November. No one at Ibrox is demanding a 55th League title this season. But stopping Celtic’s record of unbeaten domestic games at 56, this Saturday, would help sustain those Rangers fans still unsure about Caixinha.

Friday’s dispiriting Premiership draw, also at Firhill, came against a Thistle side who haven’t won in 12 league games – but Rangers’ previous visit to Maryhill, in May, saw Caixinha secure the club’s first European football for six years. Yet that was preceded by their heaviest Ibrox Old Firm loss since the Victorian period and followed by Rangers’ first home defeat to bitter rivals Aberdeen in over quarter of a century.

As Celtic curled in a fifth goal at Ibrox for the first time since the century before last, we hoped Caixinha was ruthlessly assessing what he had at his disposal, unworried by local rivalries. Even when the European “adventure” consisted solely of our worst result in six decades of continental competition, the Europa League qualifier exit to Luxembourg’s Progres Niederkorn, a support which endured liquidation in 2012 acknowledged Portugal stalwart Bruno Alves, the summer’s marquee signing, was on Confederations Cup duty. Likewise, a range of Portuguese and Mexican signings and loanees of various ages, positions and prices needed time to bed in.  

A narrow opening-day win at Motherwell included sparkling moments of attacking football, fully realised days later in a 6-0 League Cup thrashing of Championship Dunfermline Athletic. Yet the promising start descended into indiscipline and defeat to newly promoted Hibernian. Three of the forwards released this summer scored in the following Saturday’s EFL Championship as Rangers drew 0-0 with Hearts at Ibrox.

However, Caixinha’s Colombian signing Alfredo Morelos then netted four times in entertaining wins over Ross County and Dundee to get things back on track. Signing midfielders Ryan Jack, from Aberdeen, and life-long Rangers fan Graham Dorrans from Norwich City demonstrate Caixinha is conscious of the need for a Scottish core. But any sense of momentum fizzled out on Friday as, again, Rangers could neither build on a lead nor cope with a typically combative opponent.

And so, unusually, the only thing which could compound defeat tonight would be Dundee unexpectedly ending Celtic’s unbeaten run tomorrow. This would leave Caixinha unable to provide either a trophy or a significantly historic win before Christmas. And he won’t be given that long to make up for his historic defeats. Alex Anderson

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