Warburton faces crunch
Category: League

Heart Attack

Heart Attack

Analysing any defeat always has the benefit of hindsight: “we should have done this"; "we should have played him.”  These proposed changes are  easy to make once the game has run its course. It also has the added benefit that any suggestions made post match can never be wrong. However, when attempting to  analyse the humiliating defeat by Rangers at Tynecastle last night, it’s also worth pointing out that hindsight played far less of a part in post-match  discussion, than that of our actual experience at this ground earlier in the season.

In that game in November, a Hearts team who were well up for it, hounded and harassed Rangers at every turn, systematically dismantled a Rangers team that looked wholly unprepared for the task at hand and defended abysmally on the night. The game was completely out of reach with 30 minutes still on the clock and it was not inconceivable that Hearts could have scored more.

Does this sound familiar?

Away fixtures at Tynecastle are never easy and nor should they be, so surely with the manner of the defeat there earlier in the season fresh in the mind, there was an expectation that the Rangers team sent out would and should do things differently. That they would take on board the harsh lessons learned. Sadly, this was not the case as Warburton stuck with his attacking, open formation that was destroyed at this ground last time out, while keeping players in the team who are under-performing week in, week out. This intransigence in team tactics looks fundamentally flawed, as Rangers continue to play an open formation that allows other teams to play their brand of football. While at Ibrox this may help to break teams down, away from home it is utterly the wrong tactic - as the away form this season comprehensively proves.

Why do Rangers persist with this formation? Why does the manager not learn from previous lessons? Ultimately the only conclusion that can now be reached is that  Mark Warburton simply doesn’t know what else to do.

It seems a damning indictment of a professional football manager, yet every available piece of evidence we have points to a complete ineptness in the art of sending out a team that is compact, disciplined and hard to break down - a necessity at some away grounds in Scotland. Some Hearts goals last night were almost carbon copies of one another as quick free kicks left our midfield stranded and half our defenders out of position, with the inevitable results. This team and this manager are not learning their lessons and appear totally incapable of doing so. The team selection and setup is something that would not be out of place in the playground and it is nowhere near good enough.

This was compounded further still by substitutions - most on the obligatory 60 minute mark - that saw Rangers best player in Hyndman being subbed. As this lad was helping to barely keep it together for Rangers in the middle of the park, it was no surprise to see Rangers lose another goal within two minutes of his replacement and the entire team fold like a bad poker hand. Hyndman has scored two goals in two games and assisted Kenny Miller in another within minutes of his debut. He is quickly becoming indispensable to Rangers.  Halliday remaining on the park while Hyndman went off was almost surreal in its stupidity.

The substitution itself was explained away by Mark Warburton post-match, by saying  that he has a responsibility to the parent club to protect the player because the pitch was heavy. This is a simply inexcusable statement for a Rangers manager to make. The awe and adulation that Warburton obviously holds for the EPL clubs should never compromise a Rangers team or manager. Yet that is exactly what was witnessed last night.

With the manager apparently kowtowing to Bournemouth at the expense of having his best players on the park, the lack of fight in last night’s game points to the conclusion that many of our players also fail to understand  what it means to play for Rangers. Journeyman players picked from the lower reaches of the English leagues appear to have no idea what’s involved, with the home grown players not acquitting themselves any better. That is a sad indictment of the squad assembled.

Mark Warburton is a decent man however it is becoming clear that he is out of his depth as a Rangers manager. Most of his players look out of place in a Rangers team.

Waghorn scores
Category: League

Christmas Cheer

Christmas Cheer

Waghorn scores

Following a mediocre November culminating in a dreadful team performance in a 2-0 away defeat to Hearts, It would have been fair to say that not many Rangers fans seen much cause for cheer in the run up to the festive period - particularly with Aberdeen and another Hearts fixture looming on the near horizon.

However, in an amazing display of “bouncebackability” Rangers duly dispatched both opposing teams at Ibrox with relative ease. Not only that but in the process seemed to find a level of performance that very few fans prior to these fixtures seen coming. Both home wins were quickly followed by a well-earned 3 points at Hamilton, which together with Aberdeen and Hearts failing to record victories seen Rangers open a gap of 7 points to our 3rd place rivals - albeit Aberdeen still have a game in hand.

The inclusion of Hodson at right back with Tavernier pushed into midfield makes Rangers harder to beat as he leaves less space for forwards to drive into and the difference in the two Hearts games when watching Tavernier and then Hodson at right back was night and day. Hodson is not averse to getting forward but is easily the more defensively minded of the two. While there may be doubts about Tavernier’s long term suitability in his new found midfield role, turning some of his marauding runs into goals will do him no harm at all in his effort to cement a position there.

The main source of festive cheer for Rangers fans however, must surely be the return to form of McKay and Waghorn - goal scoring form in Martyn Waghorns case. While Joe Garner remains somewhat of an enigma with his work rate,  endeavour and ability to win aerial challenges a major strong point, there is no escaping the fact that he was signed as Rangers centre forward. 3 goals in 15 appearances in the league is not a good return for any centre and Rangers desperately need someone to take the chances the team have been creating. If Martyn Waghorn can embark on the type of goal scoring form we seen from him up till his injury last season, then far more Rangers games will not be the “squeaky bum time” affairs we have almost become accustomed to recently.

The Celtic fixture on Saturday 31st December 2016 would be a nice time for Waghorn to have found his scoring touch. While the Intervening games against Inverness and away to St Johnstone are important fixtures in the Christmas calendar, and having no wish to detract from Mark Warburtons commendable “one game at a time” ethos, this particular Old Firm game will be the first time Rangers have played Celtic at Ibrox since Sunday 25th March 2012. Ally McCoist was in charge of Rangers and Craig Whyte was still the owner of the club. So much has happened in the intervening, tumultuous years,  both on and off the park, that it almost defies description. However, one thing has not changed and that is the desire of the Rangers support to beat our oldest rivals at our home ground in the premier old firm fixture of the season - just as we did at the last one nearly 5 years ago.  Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

While it is doubtful Rangers can equal the feat of the corresponding wartime fixture in 1943 where Rangers demolished Celtic 8-1, should Mark Warburton and his team pull off a victory, I can think of nothing else that would help Rangers fans bring in the New Year in a better manner.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

O'Halloran taking on his opponent
Category: League

Autumn Blues?

Autumn Blues?

O'Halloran taking on his opponent

The clocks going back marking the end of British Summer Time is not normally a item that is associated with green shoots of optimism. Yet off the back of a 3-0 home win against Kilmarnock, Rangers fans were finally treated to a display that may make the onset of the darker nights a little more bearable, as they take home some positivity at last.

With the exclusion of an out of form Barrie McKay from the starting line-up and the long called for introduction of Michael O’Halloran, Rangers fans were treated to a  display of pace and direct running that has been sorely missed thus far this season.  O’Halloran’s raison d'être is to get to the by-line and deliver crosses into the box and he accomplished this to great effect. O’Halloran’s running gave a poor Kilmarnock team all sorts of problems -  particularly in  the first half -  and the score line after 45 minutes could have been far more than just the two goals that separated the teams.  Joe Garner in particular looks to be a player who can benefit from the consistent, quality service that O’Halloran can provide, as so far this season he has spent too many games with his back to goal.

In the centre of the park Josh Windass is also starting to find form and fitness and together with  Halliday and Holt is forging a midfield trio that is full of energy, running and no little guile. Windass showed a real willingness and enthusiasm for getting on the ball and displayed a range of passing against Kilmarnock that was hitherto unsuspected, while laying on the perfect ball for Lee Wallace for the opening goal. Rangers have to keep taking their chances in this manner as the  difference to matches when Rangers get the first goal in games cannot be over stated.

Defensively, Rangers are starting to look more solid than they have done recently and the introduction of Hill seems to have had a growing, positive effect on Rob Kiernan. It is worth remembering that Rob Kiernan is only 25 and has played for Rangers for the most part partnering Danny Wilson - who is a year younger. Having an experienced campaigner like Hill next to him can only be good for Kiernan's development and hopefully he can grow further into this demanding role. A clean sheet at home is exactly what the doctor ordered in that respect.

Even more good news was forthcoming from the fact that Mark Warburton could make substitutions and give some players who should be pushing for first team starts some much needed game time, without the game hanging in the balance. Martyn Waghorn, Joe Dodoo and Matt Crooks will no doubt all have big parts to play in the season ahead and the benefit of them getting time on the pitch when the game is already won can be nothing but good for these players and the squad as a whole.

At the managerial level, Mark Warburton finally seems to have a clearer idea of his best eleven and is getting nearer to a stable starting team that is match fit and can be trusted to deliver. "The first half, especially, was by far our best performance. It was a good 90 minutes' work," said Warburton. For once, nobody would disagree.

The onus is now on the team to build on this impressive display and consolidate the second place slot, with a view to start closing the gap on Celtic. While Rangers have now shown against Kilmarnock that they can provide an excellent level of entertaining football against an SPFL team that is on a par with that shown last season, only a consistent level of performance similar to this will help achieve these goals.

 Rangers have shown they can do it. They now have to show they can do it regularly.

Warburton in Training
Category: League

More questions than answers

More questions than answers

Warburton coaching

Managers make mistakes, they are after all only human. It is the scale and number of mistakes Mark Warburton made in determining his team selection  for the first Old Firm game of the season  that had many shaking their heads in disbelief before a ball was even kicked.

With no compromising the established  4-3-3 attacking formation, five Rangers players were handed an old firm debut, including the entire midfield. Late signing Philippe Senderos  was thrown in at the deep end to start his first competitive game in months.  Nico Krancjar was handed a start when every available piece of evidence Rangers supporters have seen suggest that while he still has superb technique, his movement is limited and that he should not be starting games alongside Joey Barton. Up front, an out of form Barry McKay was favoured before Michael O’Halloran,  a 36 year old Kenny Miller made the starting line-up and another debutant -  Joe Garner  - spearheaded the attack.  The list of potential pitfalls with this team selection is embarrassingly long and did not need the benefit of hindsight as validation, because they were all too obvious to anyone with even a passing knowledge of football.  Yet every single one of these decisions was made. This was a team set up to fail; and fail they inevitably did.

On the park, Josh Windass was a shining light of power and athleticism in an otherwise moribund midfield and Rangers are in sore need of  more of this as the sharp passing, possession football and pressing game of last season appears to have all but disappeared. Why does Warburton suddenly prefer an older, slower player such as Joey Barton and Niko Krancjar over the energy that Andy Halliday and Harry Forrester bring to midfield?  Judging by Saturdays team selection both Halliday and Forrester have now become 4th and 5th choices in midfield,  yet  even the most casual of observer must  struggle to see what value Joey Barton brings to the team that Andy Halliday does not .

In defence, the same old frailties have once again raised their heads -a complete inability to defend corners and a lack of pace in the central areas - and these frailties were highlighted by the Celtic attack far to easily.  Again, no hindsight is required here as these issues were apparent all throughout  last season and the fact that this has not been addressed satisfactorily  almost beggars’ belief.  While Senderos may yet do a job for Rangers this season and  it would be harsh to judge him on this single outing there remains the fact that Mark Warburton has not had one transfer window to address this issue, but two;  yet Senderos has been the very definition of a last gasp, short term signing. Playing him against Celtic appeared to be more an hopeful act of desperation than an astute managerial move and that is simply not good enough at this level.

While many may vent their spleen at the boardroom for a perceived lack of funds, it should be pointed out that Warburton has bought a striker for £1.9 Million when Rangers have a number of strikers on the books, while completely overlooking the need to bring in higher quality in the centre of defence. At the very least this suggests a complete lack of the kind of good, old fashioned, footballing pragmatism that Walter Smith championed, at worst a blindness to the glaring deficiencies in his defence. As a result, it inevitably raises the question of whether or not Warburton has  somewhat  underestimated the scale of the task that confronts him in the top flight of Scottish football. His team selection on Saturday suggests that he fundamentally underestimated Celtic.

In his press conference midweek prior to the Celtic game Warburton had expressed the belief that he would not be given 3 years to get things right at Ibrox. He is probably correct in that belief. However, if it is time he is after then avoiding heavy, embarrassing defeats to your bitterest rivals is an absolute necessity. In contrast, a  5-1 defeat does not buy you time - it speeds up the clock. Another defeat of this scale and the question that will be asked of him is if he is up to the job of managing Rangers in the top flight. Success on the field is the only answer to that.