Waghorn against Hamilton
Category: League

It's not how you start...

It's not how you start...

Waghorn celebrates against Hamilton

As the song says “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish”, which should provide some crumb of comfort to Rangers fans following the league opener draw at Ibrox on Saturday. Unfortunately, on the return of Rangers to the top flight of Scottish football, the team fell flat and failed to deliver. The much heralded midfield due of Niko Kranjcar and Joey Barton failed to be able to dominate a Hamilton midfield that were no more than workmanlike. Kranjcar in particular looked anything but match sharp and his starting berth against Hamilton looked undeserved.  His inclusion in the side robbed the Rangers midfield of energy and mobility. He has a few hard weeks on the training ground before him before he should be considered for another start. Providing him with game time can be the only possible reason  that Mark Warburton decided to wait till the sixty minute mark to substitute him as the game had passed him by.

The effect of the substitution was immediate, however, as almost with his first touch, Forrester provided a pass to Waghorn for the equaliser - and suddenly Rangers had an energy and vitality in midfield they had lacked for the first hour. However, for the rest of the match Rangers huffed and puffed and it was no surprise to see a draw as the scoreline at the final whistle.

It was a poor, insipid performance from the start and questions really have to be asked of Mark Warburton re team selection and formation. Worryingly, the midfield is an area that on paper at least looks stronger than last seasons, yet the haranguing, pressing and speed of pass we seen last year was, for the most part, missing with Hamilton Player-Coach Martin Canning commenting post match that his team were “reasonably comfortable”.

While one game into the season is patently too early to be talking about any kind of crisis, the honeymoon period for Mark Warburton and his team is now well and truly over. The Championship is history, lessons must be learned quickly and Rangers must deliver performances  week in,  week out against organised, fit teams a level above that which they played last year.

However unrealistic it is deemed within the corridors of Ibrox  - and given his recent interview Dave king disappointingly appears to already have settled for second place -  Rangers fans expect to win every game. The bar is always set high.  The next league game against Dundee is already being talked about as a “must win” game.

Drawing at home against the team who are favourites to finish the league in last position was not a good start and If things continue in this vein then this Rangers team will be anything but the “competitive” team Mark Warburton has recently said they will be this season. He may be better advised to have a word with Mr King with regard to further signings, or second may be the very best we can hope for, rather than the least he expects.

Category: League

Springing a Leak

Springing a Leak

Rangers defence springing a leak

Following the excellent defensive performances Rangers fans were witness to at the start of the year, the advent of springtime has seen Rangers concede goals at a ridiculous rate. From losing three goals in January and two in February, March has seen Rangers lose 6 while the first game in April has seen the team shed another three. The last of those being the bitterest pill to swallow as with the last kick of the ball Raith equalised and thus denied Rangers a victory and promotion at the first time of asking.

Mark Warburton, when questioned during his most recent post-match interview, said that he was mystified why Rangers did not take all three points from the Raith game. Few Rangers supporters I would imagine share his mystification, as the defensive flaws are all too obvious and as intelligent and accomplished a defender as David Weir was, he surely is not mystified either.  A more pertinent question would be why Rangers can’t defend a lead with seconds to go and in almost the last minute of the match manage to concede both a penalty and a goal, when promotion was seconds away.

Warburton has defended his team and his central defenders in the face of relatively minor criticism this season. However, it’s become obvious to many that the central defensive partnership of Danny Wilson and Rob Kiernan are likely to struggle when Rangers eventually secure promotion. Additionally, the jury is very much still out that Dom Ball can adequately fill the role of defensive midfielder. Shipping nine goals in three games against Falkirk, QoS and Raith is does not bode well for results against Premiership teams and Rangers cannot continue to rely on outscoring opponents, because having to score four goals per game is an unrealistic expectation and one no football team should be founded on, in any case.

The mitigating circumstances for the recent results revolve around 2 main points: Firstly, that the league is essentially already won so the team has taken the foot off the gas somewhat and secondly, that Rangers style of play leaves gaps at the back as a relatively poor defence have no real protection from midfield. Both are valid to an extent. However, they do not provide mitigation for the individual errors that both Kiernan and Wilson are prone to. In the end, it does not matter what the excuse is – and putting aside the looming Celtic cup tie -  the flaws have to be addressed next season, because we will not score four goals every game and will have to defend against better teams than Raith and Falkirk on a weekly basis.

Warburton and his players have done a fantastic job of turning round Rangers fortunes on the park in a very short space of time and are on the cusp of achieving the holy grail of promotion at the first time of asking. It is an achievement that should not be underrated. Kiernan and Wilson are part of that achievement and should be proud of it. However, we cannot escape the fact that promotion is not the end of the road. It is the beginning of the struggle to tackle the most difficult obstacle which Rangers have to overcome: that of winning the Premiership. That is the goal and by the first game of next season, the Championship race will be consigned to a footnote in history. As much as the current crop of players have done a sterling job in achieving promotion this season, sentiment cannot play a part when the squad is being added to and a team being assembled for our assault on the Premiership.

Falkirk Vs Rangers
Category: League

Brutal and Honest

Brutal and Honest

Rangers Vs Falkirk

No-one can win every game. Neither are you expected to lose when 2-0 up and  absolutely coasting. Yet that’s what Rangers contrived to do at Falkirk on Friday night. There are so many clichés to be rolled out with regards to the match that it’s hard to fit them all in – but here goes with the main two that spring to mind following this game “ it’s a game of two halves” and “2-0 is the most dangerous score line in football”.

Well, football is indeed a game of two halves, there is no denying that. In one half Rangers had complete dominated every aspect of the game "If I'm being perfectly brutal and honest, at half-time I was delighted to be 2-0 down," the Falkirk boss said. However, in the other half Rangers were almost completely outplayed, lost their shape, lost their composure and ultimately lost the match. A defence that has been watertight of late sprung more holes than an old colander and there was an inevitability about it all as Rangers lost 3 goals in the last 20 minutes.

2-0 up in a tough away game with 18 minutes on the clock sounds like a done deal – but Falkirk were already firing warning shots against Rangers bow. The introduction of Hippolyte in particular just after half time gave the home side added impetus and with the first scorching goal from Falkirk the entire momentum of the match shifted ominously. The Falkirk  equaliser and subsequent winner were no surprise to anybody watching.

In August, after Rangers had beaten Hibs 6-2 Warburton himself said “some teams find it very hard and try to defend the lead – we will never do that”. True to form Mark Warburtons substitutions against Falkirk said it all about his footballing philosophy;  all three were attackers; O’Halloran, Clarke and Forrester - and all three were on the park prior to the first Falkirk goal as Warburton chased the goal that would have killed the tie. Yet these very tactics contributed to the subsequent loss as the midfield and defence were left exposed as the team desperately chased the clincher. The stark lesson is this – at this stage nobody at Rangers expects the team to be able to defend leads, they have to outscore the opposition. 

This approach has in fact worked more often than not this season and has contributed to Rangers being a very attractive side to watch when on song. Yet bringing on three attackers when leading 2-0, when Falkirk’s tails were so obviously up, with only 18 minutes on the clock, hinted at a certain managerial naivety together with highlighting a lack of depth and quality in the squad in defensive areas that has been suspected during this season, but has thus far never really been shown up.

While Mark Warburton is on record as saying he has read the players the riot act and that the side must learn from this defeat, he must also look in the mirror and take on board the  managerial lessons from Fridays result as well and be brutal and honest with regards to his own decisions. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valour and that sending the fans home happy can be achieved with a 2-0 victory, as opposed to chasing a 4-0 victory and coming a cropper.

Ultimately, it would be churlish to over analyse this result. It will not affect the outcome of the title race and it may well have been the case that Mark Warburton threw caution to the wind simply because, with Rangers 14 points clear, he could afford to. However, there will be times in the coming season when we may have to defend a lead – so we will have to learn to do it soon and have the tactics and manpower in place to do so, because throwing on three forwards simply won’t cut it.

Alloa Vs Rangers
Category: League

A Wasp in the Ointment

There are so many stupid, amusing and downright ridiculous quotes by football players, managers and football panelists that is difficult sometime to pick out the most laughable. However, sometimes there is a message in what they are saying, trying desperately to get out. In attempting to come to terms with the recent 1-1 draw with Alloa at the renamed Indodril Stadium,  three “Colemanballs”, as these sporting quotes are now known, struck a chord:  "Most goals are scored between the posts" from Jamie Redknapp; Alan Shearer's "We haven't been scoring goals,  but football's not just about scoring goals. It's about winning", and Chris Waddle's  "That was a great finish, but you could say it wasn't a great finish because it didn't go in".

All three successfully managed to mangle the English language in an attempt to say the same thing:if you don’t score, you won’t win football matches. For the second time in a few days Rangers have found out to their cost that despite almost surreal amounts of possession, chances created, corners, shots on target - in fact, any stat you care to mention -  they are all completely irrelevant alongside the score line at the end of 90 minutes.

In a game of absolute Rangers dominance, where, for a spell at the end of the second half it appeared that the entire Alloa team was standing on their own goal line, Rangers managed to somehow end up  chasing a game that should have been out of sight by half time. Nobody can disagree with Mark Warburtons understated  summary of the game: “We have to be more clinical in front of goal to get the rewards for all of our good work.”

This is easier said than done, though. Rangers appear to have developed an increasing tendency to overplay in and around the opposition box and are always looking for an extra touch or pass. Martyn Waghorn - who  has scored 27 goals this season - has now not scored in 5 matches. Alarmingly, Waghorn appeared short of confidence before being subbed in the 65th minute. This mini slump is doubly concerning as there is some distance between him and the next goal scorers in line:  Kenny Miller on 12 goals and James Tavernier on 11. Miller has never been the most prolific of strikers and Tavernier is a right back. The culmination of this dearth of goals is that Rangers have only scored two goals in three games so far in February, which is the lowest number of goals in any three match spell this season. The dependence on Waghorn to find the back of the net has never been starker and the sooner he regains his goal scoring touch, the happier all concerned with Rangers will be.

On a positive note, Michael O’Halloran, although on the periphery of the action in the first half, put in an excellent second half display on the right wing filled with power and pace which was capped by a fine finish to equal the score. Billy King also gave the Wasps defence a torrid time when he was introduced . Both new signings would surely be certain starters against Kilmarnock if they were not cup-tied and will be a vital part of the title run in.

As for the home side, well, every decision regarding reduction of pitch width and “park the bus” tactics was validated by the result they secured. They need only point to the score line to justify their actions. Ultimately, Alloa adjusted the size of the pitch, not the size of the goalmouth and Rangers can blame no-one but themselves for dropping two points. The players need look no further than David Coleman - the man who was the inspiration for the term “Colemanballs” -  and one of his most famous quotes, to learn a salutatory lesson from Saturdays performance:

 “If that had gone in” he once said, “it would have been a goal”.

Written by cushynumber