THEY thought it was all over. It is now. The Premiership title race is done and so is Giovanni van Bronckhorst.
There is no way back for Rangers in terms of their silverware aspirations and the manager now surely cannot survive a collapse that leaves his side in such a position at this stage of the season.
The draw with Livingston and defeat to St Johnstone put Van Bronckhorst on the brink. This stalemate away to St Mirren was greeted with the now customary chorus of boos from the away support and faith in the manager and his side has been lost.
A late penalty from James Tavernier gave Rangers hope of salvaging something after Jonah Ayunga had put St Mirren ahead earlier in the half. Like so much of this season, it was a chance Rangers simply couldn’t capitalise on and convert.
It has been a campaign where mistakes have been compounded. The Champions League humiliation was bad enough, but being so abject domestically cannot be accepted.
Van Bronckhorst is not the only issue at Ibrox that needs addressed but the position of the manager is the most pressing one. It is also the easiest one to solve for a board, headed by chairman Douglas Park, that are now under huge pressure and facing significant questions.
This was another woeful afternoon for Rangers. No excuses can be offered and none will be accepted by a scunnered support that have had enough of such shambolic showings.
Rangers arrived in Paisley knowing only a win would do. That ambition proved beyond them once again as a depleted squad came up short and failed to deliver a performance or a result.
Van Bronckhorst added Antonio Colak to his list of walking wounded on Friday as the Auchenhowie treatment room checked in another visitor. There was no mention of Ben Davies but the defender also missed out here as Van Bronckhorst ruled that the schedule was too much for him to handle.
There has been plenty of talk about the injury problems that have plagued Rangers this term and what difference those players will make once they are fit to return to action. This was another example of how badly some have been missed but also evidence that Van Bronckhorst should be doing so much better with what he does have to choose from.
The first half was forgettable and the second was unforgivable. It is now a month before Rangers are back in action and even that seems like too soon for a support that have been scarred by the ineptitude served up throughout this shambles of a season.
This was never going to be a straightforward way for Rangers to finish before the break. They would have needed no reminding of St Mirren’s victory over Celtic here or the way in which the Buddies have operated under boss Stephen Robinson this term.
It was a first half for St Mirren to be encouraged by and also frustrated by as Curtis Main nipped in ahead of Borna Barisic and saw his header saved by Allan McGregor. Later in the half, he knocked the ball wide to Greg Kiltie and could only watch on as a low cross evaded everyone in the area.
A speculative effort from Mark O’Hara never worried McGregor but Declan Gallagher should have beaten the Rangers keeper as he connected with a header at the back post. From six yards, the target had to be hit.
The final chance came inadvertently through Leon King as he diverted a Ryan Strain cross over his own crossbar. For a brief moment, it looked like the ball might well find the top corner.
That was a sigh of relief for Rangers. At the other end, there was little to bring a cheer from the travelling support as Van Bronckhorst’s side failed to find any real rhythm.
Malik Tillman spurned the first opening as he swept a shot wide after a neat touch bought him time and space and Alfredo Morelos couldn’t hit the target in one of the few occasions he was involved. Rangers needed more from the Colombian on his return to the side.
It was another who had earned a start that came closest for Rangers. Trevor Carson produced an excellent near post stop to prevent Scott Wright heading home from a Barisic cross and then watched on as a low strike, after a jinking run, was pulled narrowly wide of target.
Rangers needed to find several levels of improvement after the break. The start to the second half was farcical, though, as things went from bad to worse.
Morelos was booked within a couple of seconds for a tangle with Ethan Erhahon and Ayunga soon had the ball in the net as Rangers were once again woeful defensively.
A throw-in wasn’t dealt with and McGregor saved at close range from Ayunga. King failed to clear his lines and the striker made him pay as Van Bronckhorst watched on at the latest calamity of the campaign.
Those issues were soon put into context. King received treatment on the pitch for several minutes after a head knock and there was clear concern amongst staff and supporters before the youngster was stretchered off to a heartening round of applause.
Rangers needed a savour to step forward. The performance was lethargic, it lacked leadership and quality, and a wild effort from Kent received the derisory and mocking reaction it deserved.
Tavernier couldn’t hit the target at the back post as his header was skewed wide. At the other end, Ayunga came within inches of the second goal that would have been the final nail in the coffin for this afternoon.
With ten minutes remaining, Rangers had hope. It only arrived after a long wait and a Kevin Clancy blunder, though, as the referee booked Kent for diving following a challenge from Marcus Fraser.
A second look made it obvious that Kent had been clipped. Tavernier waited whilst Clancy corrected his mistake and then coolly converted from the spot to bring Rangers to life at long last.
The board from the fourth official gave Rangers another nine minutes to find the winner. It never came – as Carson saved from Kent and a Ryan Jack header - and time was soon up on this match as another two points were dropped.
The coming days and weeks will determine if this proves to be Van Bronckhorst’s last outing as manager and the World Cup break that could have been a blessing may now prove to be the Dutchman’s undoing at Ibrox. It should be all over.