Rangers' vision blurred as vast gap with Celtic is there for all to see
For Rangers, these are the grimmest of groundhog days, constant reminders off the field and on that the gap between themselves and their old rivals from across Glasgow is so vast now that it's scarcely even worth talking about.
This was their fifth meeting with Celtic this season and the aggregate score is currently running at 11-3 to Brendan Rodgers' men.
In those five games, Celtic have had 93 attempts on goal to Rangers' 40. They've had 42 attempts on target to Rangers' 19.
They've knocked Rangers out of both cup competitions and are 33 points clear of them in the league table and yet we still wonder about how and when the Ibrox club are going to breach this gap.
It's a question from another era, not this one. When are Rangers going to catch up?
- Celtic need two 'quality' signings - Rodgers
- Rangers gave Celtic too much respect - Caixinha
- Celtic beat Rangers to reach final
- Celtic 2-0 Rangers player rater
That one is only worth posing when there are sufficient signposts from Ibrox that they are capable of making inroads and those signposts are singularly absent.
They have question marks over their manager, the vast majority of their players and their chairman, Dave King, who talked the talk readily enough in the past.
If we are to indulge the "gap" issue, here's some of what needs to happen for these clubs to become rivals in the here and now rather than in our mind's eye.
Rangers need Pedro Caixinha to develop into a coaching visionary and a scouting genius capable of plucking raw talent from untapped markets then developing it and turning it into a first-team force. All on a budget.
Simultaneously Celtic, you suspect, need to lose Rodgers as manager, lose the steady hand of Peter Lawwell as chief executive, lose their marquee players, while wasting their windfall on inferior players and then lose the Champions League loot. In other words, lose their way in a major fashion.
The Old Firm is looking like a jaded brand, a rivalry that even Barry Hearn at his bombastic best would struggle to pitch as something unique in the world of football.
To borrow an expression from the fast-talking promoter, Hearn wouldn't be pulling down the trousers of any sponsor in the selling of this product right now.
Sunday's episode lacked drama and atmosphere. It was too one-sided for too long to be considered anything special.
Once it was the Bearded Lady of the British game, a fascinating if grisly spectacle that was hard to take your eyes off.
Nothing about Celtic's 2-0 victory in the Scottish Cup semi-final was different. Nothing took you by surprise. It was as most people expected - a comfortable win for Celtic, a club that has motored free of Rangers in every conceivable category you can think of.
In the aftermath of the semi-final, Celtic winger Scott Sinclair said that this was one of his team's best performances of the season.
|Former Rangers striker Kris Boyd on BBC Radio Scotland|
|"From a Rangers perspective, there were a lot of them running about not looking like they knew exactly what they were doing. There was no structure.|
|"The back four, defensively, looked like they knew what they were doing because they were there as a back four.|
|"But anywhere else, I thought there was a change every couple of minutes - Kenny Miller was on the right, then the left, then Martyn Waghorn was through the middle.|
|"In a game like this especially, under Walter Smith we always knew exactly what we were doing. We were rigid, we were hard to break down and I don't really think that was the case on Sunday."|
In pockets of the game, yes, it was. When Celtic were good, they were very good.
Their movement, their accuracy, their speed of thought was streets ahead of a Rangers team that set up in an attacking formation that was tantamount to a death-wish.
Caixinha hasn't been in the job long at Ibrox, but it should have been long enough to know that if you don't come to a game against Celtic in full battle mode then you can forget it.
Rangers set up like a team that thought they were Celtic's equal, like a side that believed they could play three strikers and go toe-to-toe.
They had numbers at the back and numbers up top, but that middle bit? That's kind of important as well and Rangers didn't have anything like enough of a presence in there.
Not that it's been written yet, but you can imagine that Point A in the manual of how to beat Celtic in domestic competition is to make it a war in midfield, make Scott Brown uncomfortable so he doesn't have the run of the place as he did on Sunday.
Sinclair's comment about this being up there with Celtic's best performances was true but only to a point.
Across the whole span of the game, Celtic have played a lot better this season. This wasn't them at their relentless best.
This was a team that coasted to 2-0 then lost their intensity because subconsciously they knew the game was done. They gave up some decent chances towards the end. Therein lay one of Rangers' problems - they weren't good enough to take them when they arose.
Celtic marched on to the final and a tilt at a treble and, very possibly, an unbeaten domestic season.
|BBC Scotland football pundit and four-time Scottish Cup winner Willie Miller|
|"The first half from Rangers was too pedestrian. They allowed Celtic to dominate and didn't lay a glove on them until it was too late. At least they put Celtic under a bit of pressure.|
|"Celtic are a fabulous side. Scott Brown bossed throughout in the midfield and that was an area Rangers really disappointed in.|
|"At the back, for the first goal, the long ball should have been dealt with by the centre-backs. Celtic were by far the better team and deserve to be in the final."|
Under Rodgers, they are a focused club again. They know what they are and they know what they are trying to be - a team that can continue to dominate at home while adding two or three players to propel themselves forward in Europe. There's a buoyancy there, a clarity of thought.
Across the city, it's muddled. Rangers supporters are trapped between the world they used to live in and the world they live in now.
Some fans accept their fate and have patience. Others do not.
What seems to unite all Rangers people is a knowledge that this team needs rebuilding, almost from scratch. Part of the rancour comes from the fact that there isn't sufficient funds there to rebuild it.
This wasn't how it was sold to them when King offered a vision of a war-chest and great times ahead. That vision, like the team itself, has become blurred.