Kenny McDowall admits Rangers may have to settle for the play-offs after Hibernian registered their biggest win over the Ibrox side in almost 103 years.
The 4-0 drubbing at Easter Road was the worst possible start for caretaker boss McDowall.
Replacing axed manager Ally McCoist - forced to see out his 12-month notice period on garden leave - the former Partick and St Mirren striker was hoping to relieve the strains on the Light Blues faithful after a week of more off-field turmoil with a win in Edinburgh.
But it all went wrong as David Gray and Jason Cummings put the hosts two up after just 12 minutes.
And the Rangers supporters were flooding towards the exits well before the end when Scott Robertson and Liam Craig struck after the break as Hibs racked up their biggest score against the Gers since a 5-0 drubbing in January 1912.
The defeat leaves Hibs just four points off the second-placed Govan men and McDowall acknowledged automatic promotion may now be beyond his side.
He said: “We will see where we go. We just have to keep trying to win games and see where that takes us. If it’s a play-off it’s a play-off. We’re prepared to go there.”
From the kick-off Rangers were a distant second best. Craig rifled the hosts ahead after just seven minutes as he was given an age to pick his spot from the edge of the box.
Rangers were still wobbling as Steve Simonsen’s gaffe allowed skipper Craig to cut the ball back for Cummings to tap home.
There was more life to the visitors after the break but that did not stop first Robertson slotting past Simonsen before Craig wrapped up the four-goal romp with 20 minutes left as he stroked home from Scott Allan’s gorgeous pass.
“It was very disappointing to be two goals down after 12 minutes,” said McDowall as he reflected on a nightmare managerial debut. “Our whole game plan went out the window after that.
“At the moment I am just going to have to work with the squad that is there. I can’t just invent players.
“I don’t know if a lack of commitment is the word I would use. They just did not look organised at times. They were not where they should have been on the park. Commitment? You should ask them.
“Were the boys mentally tired? I couldn’t deny that was a part of it with the goings on and the situation. But do I want to make that an excuse? No.
“They are professional people. I will accept the responsibility for the result. I set the team up and the boys will accept responsibility for the performances. It was not good enough.”
With Rangers already two down, McDowall was forced to hook Ian Black with just half an hour played. Already on a yellow after scything down Allan, the former Hearts midfielder was in danger of collecting a second.
The interim boss said: “It was going to be too big a risk. He was already on a yellow and it was a hostile environment.
“There was no way I was going to take that chance. It was always going to be a difficult game with 11 men, I wasn’t going to take the chance of going down to 10.”
The result was also the first time since the 6-2 defeat to Celtic in August 2000 that Rangers have lost by more than four goals.
Hibs boss Alan Stubbs was in the Hoops team that day and insisted his side - and not Rangers’ off-field woes - were the reason for the emphatic result.
He said: “The players are really starting to understand what we want from them.
“Today was one of those days where everything comes together and you get the result. I hope the players get the credit they deserve for the result and it is not about what is going on off the field with Rangers.
“We were clever, intelligent, as close to a complete performance as I have come about in my time as a manager or coach.”