IN some ways, it might have been better for Rangers had they been routed at Hampden by Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi-final. Because the tightness of a contest they again came out on the wrong side of may give them false comfort as to how much work they need to do to overhaul their rivals.

On the day, and in the last few Old Firm encounters, there may have been precious little between the sides. ‘Fine margins’, as midfielder John Lundstram said wearily after the game. Switching off for a second here. Missing a gilt-edged opportunity there.

But looking at the bigger picture, there is no masking the fact that Michael Beale has a huge job on if he is to stop Ange Postecoglou and his team’s continuing dominance of Scottish football. For the errors and failings that Rangers exhibited at Hampden are the same ones that have been plaguing them ever since they defeated Celtic at the national stadium at this stage of the Scottish Cup last season. These aren’t aberrations, but habits.

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Celtic are now unbeaten in the last six games against Rangers, winning four and drawing two. Rangers have won just one of the last nine encounters between the sides. With the greatest of respect to Inverness, who Celtic will now face in the Scottish Cup Final, they are racing certainties to add a Treble to the Double they won in Postecoglou’s first season.

They weren’t at their best at Hampden on Sunday, but they didn’t need to be. And where it really mattered, they had performances from key players where Rangers did not.

Rangers manager Beale threw a patched-up Connor Goldson in at the heart of his defence, and while blame for Celtic’s goal could fairly be apportioned elsewhere – from the four Rangers players who left the ball to one another to captain James Tavernier watching Jota drift off him unmoved - he was nowhere to be seen as a free header was scored from the centre of his box.

By contrast, Celtic could count on their colossus in Cameron Carter-Vickers, who despite being clearly impeded by his own injury problems, put his head on absolutely everything that came into the Celtic area.

When the big chance fell Celtic’s way, they had a man in Jota who was ruthless with it. Rangers, on the other hand, got almost nothing from the men who were supposed to provide their main threats, with Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent – both unfit, but for different reasons – barely ruffling the Celtic backline.

And when Rangers did get their own big opportunity, the ball breaking to Fashion Sakala after Tavernier had hit the post, the substitute did the same thing he did in the Viaplay Cup Final and skewed the ball wide of an open goal.

Lundstram’s post-match assertions then about Rangers being the better team for the most part would have rung hollow with a fanbase who have grown tired of a group of players consistently talking a good game but failing to back it up in their actions since beating Celtic at the same stage of the Scottish Cup 12 months ago.

In fairness to Lundstram, there was little else he could say. Far more succour for the Rangers fans as they pored over the wreckage of another Old Firm defeat and a trophyless season was to be found in the words of their manager.

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“For our fans it's been a horrible season to live through, for the players it's not been great on the inside either,” Beale said.

“The distance between us and our rivals is slim on the individual days, but over the course of the season it will count as two or three trophies to zero and moving forward that's not going to be good enough.

"Some players are fighting for their futures, obviously. It will be the biggest rebuild this club has seen in a number of years.”

Beale has had to be careful with his public criticism of his players since arriving in November, but it seems his generally candid approach has extended to the make-up of his squad now that Rangers have nothing left to lose.

The league and both cups are gone now, and the Rangers manager has made clear that perhaps as many as a dozen players will lose their places at the club as a result.

That is exactly what a great many Rangers supporters will have been wanting to hear, rather than the usual platitudes about how small the gap was between the teams on the day and that their own side aren’t far away from turning things in their favour.

Celtic too will add to their ranks in the summer, and they will do so from a position of strength. To put up a decent fight of it next season, Beale will have to perform the sort of miracle root and branch rebuild that Postecoglou managed when he arrived across the city a couple of summers back.

At least, it seems, he is fully aware of that fact. Because it is the three trophies that will likely be in the Celtic cabinet by the end of the season that are the true reflection of where these teams currently are, rather than the ‘fine margins’ on display at Hampden.