I’ve talked on this site before about Any Given Sunday’s famous “Inches Speech”, about how that’s what it’s all about. Games are won inch by inch, little by little, bit by bit. Titles are won the same way, with the steady accumulation of goals and points.
This is why Ange preaches the philosophy of one game at a time, one goal at a time, one win at a time to take a club towards a title.
Momentum is only as good as it lasts. We’re 17 games into an unbeaten run, but our momentum slipped a bit at the turn of the year, or this would be 17 wins in a row instead. That’s an inch lost, an inch we didn’t get, an inch which we don’t need right now because we’re nine points clear but in another campaign one that might have been critical.
This morning in his column, Keith Jackson claims that The Mooch has matched Ange Postecoglou blow for blow since becoming the Ibrox boss. “Michael Beale has Rangers matching Celtic and the numbers show it’s more than a new manager bounce” screams the headline.
But there are a couple of things he has apparently failed to notice, the first being that The Mooch wasn’t going up against Ange Postecoglou in all of those games but an assortment of other managers and teams, and although he’s gotten results they haven’t been convincing.
In the one game where he and Ange were actually trading blows it ended all square, on a day when we were way off our best, on The Mooch’s home ground.
We were the ones who went into that match with a significant points lead. They needed a win that day so our leaving with the result which maintained that gap was our victory, not his, although some sections of the media has laboured mightily to dress it up as if it was.
In The Mooch’s first three league games they beat Hibs 3-2 after being behind. They beat Aberdeen 3-2 with two goals so late that they should have been Returned To Sender. They did beat Motherwell 3-0 at home but then drew 2-2 with us. From their first four games they won just one of them convincingly. They beat Dundee Utd 2-0 away.
Which brings us to the League Cup game against Aberdeen. A late red and an extra time goal got them past the side which went out of the Scottish Cup to Darvel not long afterwards. They beat ten man Kilmarnock 3-2 in the league, scraped past St Johnstone 1-0 in a woeful Scottish Cup tie and then beat them 2-0 at Ibrox with a little help from their SFA friends.
The Hearts result, then, jumps off the page at you because it seems so emphatic and was secured away from home.
But we’ve written about that already and know full well what the context of that particular win was, an inexplicable tactical change from Robbie Neilson which even BBC’s sports hacks – not exactly tactical masterminds – knew was a bust before the game even kicked off.
This weekend, they reverted to the scrappy single goal victory, with the aid of a deflection.
If Keith Jackson wants to kid himself on that this looks like there is a “cohesion and crispness to the way this team is now operating” he is welcome to do so; The Mooch can’t even decide which goalkeeper he prefers and talk about “rotating” his players is laughable when you look across the city at us and see how it’s actually done.
Here’s some facts. Since Jackson’s new favourite manager (who he didn’t want in the first place remember) sloped into the town, Celtic has increased the lead at the top. By goal difference terms, sure, but we’re the ones who just navigated the trickiest spell of the whole season and did so with aplomb. We’re the ones went to the home of our rivals and got the result we needed. For all The Mooch’s “good form” we’re further ahead than we were.
By inches, sure, but this is a game of inches. If Jackson thinks the numbers stack up to good news for the Ibrox boss he’s looking at the wrong ones. The ones that do matter show something a little bit different. Celtic further in front.