The Case for the Defence
Since the turn of the year, a large focus on Rangers has been the perceived lack of goals the team has been scoring when contrasted with the possession and chances created. While this is indeed a concern, particularly with the on-going injury to Martyn Waghorn, it’s worth pointing out the obvious – that it’s not just goal scorers that help to win games and titles; defenders and goalkeepers all have vital parts to play. To that effect the Rangers defence, coupled with the very able Wes Foderingham in goal, appear to have stepped up to the plate at a very crucial time.
There are a number of factors that are contributing to this new found solidity: Andy Halliday is getting to grips with the defensive side of his role; Ball has been a rock in midfield when required; the positional sense and covering ability of Wallace and Tavernier when the other is attacking has improved; Foderingham has pulled off some crucial saves; the individual errors that were commonplace for the first half of the season appear to have all but disappeared and the teams possession football have all played their part, but the main difference is that Danny Wilson and Rob Kiernan look as if they are becoming a defensive unit and their positioning in relation to one another has improved markedly. As neither is the fastest player on the planet, this positioning is vital. In the first half of the season, it was all too common to see a hopeful ball launched up the park causing chaos in the heart of the Rangers defence as neither Wilson or Kiernan appeared to know what the other was doing. Now they are dealing with this type of ball with relative ease.
This visible improvement in the Rangers defending is fully backed by the stats: since the new year Rangers have played 13 times for the loss of just 5 goals. Of the 8 games Rangers have played through February and March the team have actually only scored 12 goals but vitally, they have also kept 6 clean sheets, losing only 2 goals.
In comparison with the improvement in the Rangers, our supposed nearest rivals in the league at the moment (though now in 3rd place) have lost 12 goals since the turn of the year – 9 of them since the start of February. However, it is the last 3 league games that have made the real difference, as Hibs have shipped 7 goals to Rangers none. The Rangers defence has been watertight, while Hibs dramatic downturn defensively has torpedoed their title ambitions, leaving them 14 points adrift in the title race.
This is not to suggest the Rangers defence is infallible – far from it. As mentioned previously neither central defender is blessed with pace and the general lack of height within the team leaves Rangers vulnerable at set plays and corners. Both players – particularly Danny Wilson – have struggled mightily at times this season and are still prone to errors. However, credit where credit is due: at a crucial time of the season the excellent form of the centre of the defence has enabled Rangers to win games where the strikers have been struggling to find the net with the regularity they have achieved earlier in the season. Against Dundee in the cup some last ditch tackles from Kiernan helped Rangers to again hold firm and enabled the team to progress against Premiership opposition with relative ease, into a much anticipated Scottish cup semi final against Celtic.
However, there is no room for complacency. There are 9 games to go in the league, with away games at Falkirk and Hibs among them and the cup semi final looms large on the horizon. Rangers have managed to bag a few goals in the recent cup win against Dundee, but the sooner the team regains their scoring touch in the league, the easier and more entertaining the run in will be and the onus on having to keep clean sheets can be relieved somewhat, with the potential for young players such as Liam Burt to get some game time when little is at stake.
Until then there is a job to do and a league to be won with the added bonus of a cup semi final against our oldest rivals to be savored. There is a bit of work left to do, before this Rangers defence can rest.