Desmond Kane

Rangers: The best of times, the worst of times

Desmond Kane

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With an accent that resembles Lulu's slightly bizarre transatlantic patois, Alastair Johnston's right to criticise Craig Whyte - the Rangers owner who ousted him as chairman - went up in smoke when he decided to try to win favour with the caveman element who support the Glasgow club.

Speaking about his dismissal on the recent BBC documentary 'Rangers: The Inside Story' that has wound up with Auntie being threatened with legal action by Whyte, Johnston lost all right to sympathy when recalling his reaction after being asked to resign by the new man overseeing matters at Ibrox.

"Basically, I'm not going to resign," said Johnston speaking from over the pond. Johnston claimed Whyte told him: "Well, we're going to tell the stock exchange tonight..will you now reconsider? It was a threat.

"I said, 'there is a moniker they use around these parts. The second word is surrender, the first is no'. I'm not going to resign."

Whyte assumed ownership of the club from previous custodian Sir David Murray in May before Johnston was ejected, probably without surrender.

Johnston's suitability as chairman departed with such misplaced sentiment and all its non-football connotations, but what cannot be disputed is his right to offer opinion on the ongoing malaise affecting Rangers.

While not being akin to Frost/Nixon, the BBC investigation did throw up question marks over Whyte, whose best intentions remain something of mystery. But then these are questions already being asked by frazzled supporters of the club.

For Rangers, these are the best of times and the worst of times. Togetherness on the pitch is undermined by Sir David Murray's mismanagement off it before he was apparently forced by the bank to move the club on to Whyte.

Like Johnston, Rangers players are in no mood to resign.

We are in early November, but unless Celtic discover what now feels like last season's jaunty gait, the second Glasgow derby of the season at Celtic Park on December 28 looks like a match of epic proportions.

It is eight weeks away, but who knows what condition Celtic or Rangers will be in by then.

The way the season is unravelling, Celtic may have to win their remaining three league matches against Rangers to have a chance of reclaiming the Scottish Premier League for the first time in four years. Or perhaps not.

Wherever the truth lies, Rangers are not only winning matches, they are also highlighting the deficiencies within Neil Lennon's Celtic side with every point they put between themselves and the rest.

Hearts and Aberdeen are traditional sticking points for Rangers and/or Celtic in any season, but Ally McCoist has watched his side escape ambush from a couple of venues that always cause some consternation.

Nikica Jelavic and Steven Naismith scored last week in a 2-0 win against Heart of Midlothian at Tynecastle. Kyle Lafferty and Jelavic found the net on Saturday against Aberdeen in a 2-1 win at Pittodrie.

Rangers have 35 points from 13 games drawing twice. It is championship-winning conduct and then some, with Celtic behind Motherwell in third place having garnered 23 from 12 matches. Celtic have a squad struggling for consistency and a dearth of reliable performers.

Rangers have a unity and pride of performance that qualifies their position at the top of the table. They also possess arguably the best three players equipped to deal with the raucous climes of the SPL in Jelavic (seven goals), Lafferty (five) and Naismith (nine).

Rangers may be ruing the lack of finance that comes with a lack of European involvement, but the Europa League has been of limited use to a Celtic side who have yet to master the vagaries of the SPL.

The main question mark over Rangers has nothing to do with ability. The knee injury suffered by Naismith on Saturday - confirmed yesterday as cruciate ligament damage that will confine him to a spectator's role for the rest of the season - was a cruel twist of fate, but there would have been question marks over his long-term future at the club if Whyte attempts to raise fresh capital in January. Or indeed, if Whyte is still in his position of authority if matters take a turn for the worse in the next few months.

Will Rangers be forced to sell the family jewels in January? Lafferty and Jelavic are striking up a marvellous partnership in Scotland, but their success in helping Rangers go 13 games unbeaten also makes them luxury items.

It has been claimed cash flow problems could force Rangers into administration before Christmas. This is before the outcome of a tax tribunal with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is known. A judgement may not be passed until March. If Rangers lose the main tax case over the alleged misuse of Employee Benefit Trusts a decade or so ago, they will go into administration owing the taxman £49 million, which is the latest figure to be bounced around media circles.

Administration would bring a 10-point penalty with the possibility of an increase to 25 points. There would also be a fire sale of the club's finer players. Rangers apparently fielded a side that was double the cost of Celtic in a 4-2 win over their city foes at Ibrox in September. It showed. The vultures would swoop over the carcass of Rangers in administration. They would pick off the meatiest parts in leaving a skeleton squad.

It will be argued that Rangers had no right to previous SPL successes if players were bought breaking tax laws yet if Whyte it is to be believed, there remains room for optimism in the HMRC case.

Or there is the other take on the story. Johnston said before he was forced out by Whyte  in relation to the tax bill "it's like a gorilla in the room and you don't know what its appetite is".

The taxman is not at fault here. Nor is Whyte, even if he turns out to be an opportunist in a Rangers scarf. The question that should continue to be asked is why did previous owner Sir David Murray - the figure who wallowed in plaudits when Rangers snagged nine straight Scottish flags - allow it to come to this?

Whatever is made of the ongoing pantomime, Celtic's best hope of regaining the league may lie outwith their own dressing room. These winter months could yet bring a different climate to Scottish football.

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