Much fuss has been made about Rangers’ Champions League campaign and the prospect of them finishing with the worst record in the competition’s history should they fall to defeat against Ajax at Ibrox tomorrow night.

Let’s be clear: one goal scored and 19 conceded represents a disastrous effort from Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side and there can be no sugar-coating just how bad the campaign has been but it is worth pointing out that some context is required when comparing Rangers’ record with that of Dinamo Zagreb, the club that currently hold the dubious honour for worst ever performance in the group stage.

The Croats failed to score during the 2016/17 edition – the only team from the 80 that participated in both the Champions League and Europa League to do so – and they registered a mere eight shots on target across six matches. Their opponents in those games were Juventus, Lyon and Sevilla, and of that trio only the Italians had been champions in the previous campaign.

Compare that with the formidable group Rangers find themselves in which contains last year’s beaten finalists, the Dutch champions and a Napoli side who are the talk of Europe.

There should have been no element of surprise here, the Champions League is a much more unforgiving environment than that of the Europa League.

Take a look at Eintracht Frankfurt, the team Rangers lost to in Seville in May’s Europa League final, and you will see their performance has been far from stellar (they have won two, drawn one and lost two) in a much kinder group that includes a far from vintage Marseille, an inconsistent Sporting Lisbon side and a Spurs team who have been toiling for weeks.

It is clear that expectations around Ibrox went through the roof after Rangers saw off PSV Eindhoven in qualification but the summer spend meant that their return to the competition was only going to end one way once the draw was made. If there is a silver lining to be gleaned it is that the statistics don’t always tell the whole story.

McBurnie back among the goals

Good to see Oli McBurnie on the scoresheet again at the weekend. McBurnie is one of those curious centre-forwards who seems to be relatively prolific at lower-league level but as soon as they make the step up to a higher division all goalscoring touch deserts them.

The Sheffield United striker scored his seventh goal of a productive campaign against West Brom at the weekend (better than current Scotland international strikers Lyndon Dykes and Ross Stewart). The 26-year-old has actually a creditable record at Championship level and has notched a respectable 38 goals in 101 games at that level, a ratio of a goal every 2.66 games. Contrast that with his strike rate of seven in 75 in the Premier League and it is not hard to see why he has become the butt of so many jokes.

Much of the mirth extends from the price United paid to Swansea City for McBurnie. If his goals can help them back into the Premier League at the end of this season then perhaps it will help to justify the Yorkshire club’s £20 million outlay for him in 2019, even if only in part.

Murray’s mission in Paris

Andy Murray faces Gilles Simon in the first round of the Paris Masters this morning with the expectation that he will make unfettered progress past the Frenchman.

Murray has been in good form this season having won 25 of his 42 matches and reaching ATP finals in Sydney and Stuttgart, albeit without a title to show for his efforts.

He leads the career head-to-head against the 37-year-old Simon 16-2 and with the latter toiling of late should be good value to reach the second round where he is expected to face Taylor Fritz of the United States. Murray lost in straight sets to Fritz at the ATP Masters 100 event in Canada this year so should the Scot indeed face the world No.10 his hopes of going deeper into the tournament might well end there.

Murray revealed last week that he will only retire when he feels he has started going backwards saying: “[I want] to continue to improve. If I keep seeing progress I’ll continue to keep playing.”

He has battled his way back into the world’s top 50 this season so that progress he references is definitely there. His week in Paris will give him yet further clues as to whether there is more to come.

Sport On TV

The latest instalment of the most exciting division in Scotland gets another airing when Cove Rangers host Queen’s Park in the Championship’s Friday evening match (BBC iPlayer, 7.45pm).

The two clubs – ambitious and upwardly mobile – have made differing starts to life following promotion last season. Cove’s appointment of Jim McIntyre always felt like it could go either way and, so far, it seems as if the Highlanders will spend the campaign battling to avoid a return to the place from whence they came.

It is a different matter for another former Ross County manager, however. Owen Coyle has Queen’s Park ticking along just nicely a third of the way through the season and they will have the opportunity to join Ayr United at the top of the table, albeit with an inferior goal difference, should they come away from the Balmoral Stadium with all three points.

Townsend’s exclusion of Russell is so very “Scottish rugby”

Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham infamously despised each other as Manchester United team-mates but it did not stop them from winning the treble – Champions League included – together in 1999. Meanwhile, Phil Jackson and his star player Kobe Bryant were not exactly easy bedfellows yet they still managed to win two NBA world championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The history of sport is littered with dominant, title-winning teams that contained characters who maintained uneasy alliances and personalities who clashed regularly – it stands to reason that, as with life in the outside world, not everyone is going to get along in a dressing room, all the more so when it is filled with alpha males butting heads with each other.

And so, to the Gregor Townsend/Finn Russell contretemps. It is pretty clear Townsend’s explanation for excluding the No.10 (pictured) from Scotland’s Autumn Test series for form reasons is nonsense. It is the worst kept secret in rugby that the two men do not see eye to eye but it is also so wonderfully Scottish rugby that the head coach – who has now presided over six defeats in 10 internationals – cannot even find room for the best stand-off in the world in his squad, let alone his starting line-up.

It is a farce best summed up by Russell’s Saturday afternoon work – kicking 23 points for Racing 92 in their 43-38 victory over Brive – while his replacement, Blair Kinghorn, was missing a kick that would ultimately prove the difference between Scotland losing 16-15 to Australia, a side generally regarded to be in turmoil and who are ranked three places below them in the world, and them winning.


Greg Taylor celebrated a century of appearances for Celtic with a goal in yesterday’s 3-0 win over Livingston. There were times when the former Kilmarnock left-back was a target for criticism from supporters but he is fast emerging as Celtic’s player of the season