Brutal and Honest
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.