Craig Fowler looks back at a highly charged encounter between the top two sides in the Ladbrokes Championship.
1) Rangers solidified their defence through an efficient attack
Mark Warburton should still look to reinforce his leaky back-line in January, regardless of this result. Andy Halliday did his hopes of keeping his starting place beyond January few favours with a shaky performance at defensive midfield, even before his needless red card, while individual errors among the Rangers back-line contributed to both of Hibernian’s goals.
However, if you compare last night’s match with Rangers’ loss at Falkirk in their previous match, there’s little doubt there was a marked improvement. Hibs may have scored twice, but that was in part down to the ruthlessness of the visitors, who didn’t really pass up other chances in the game. Compare that to Falkirk, who could easily have netted an additional three goals to add to their 2-1 victory last time around, and you see where I’m coming from.
Alan Stubbs went with James Keatings over Dominique Malonga because he expected his side to get more joy on the counter-attack, and reasoned that speed would be a more effective weapon over Malonga’s ability to hold the ball up. A big reason they didn’t was Rangers’ ability to retain possession and, even more importantly, not allow themselves to get caught on the football with the full-backs so far advanced. Because while James Tavernier and Lee Wallace are asked to contribute as much around the opposing penalty area as they are their own, their stamina and pace enables them to get back into position quickly if given the chance.
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2) Jason Holt might be Rangers’ Player of the Year
The midfielder produced another terrific performance to galvanise the rest of his side en route to victory. I’ve written extensively before about Holt’s improvement this season and his role in the side, but maybe didn’t realise how prolific he would be in the final third. He’s now scored nine goals in 23 games, a tremendous record for a midfielder.
Beyond the statistics, his general play was fantastic again as he reprised his role of fulcrum in the centre of the park, linking attacks all over the pitch before making those late, and deadly, runs into the box.
3) The Hibs midfield didn’t show up
If you’re desperate for an explanation as to why John McGinn and Fraser Fyvie suffered through such poor games, while Liam Henderson was ineffective and Dylan McGeouch tried but couldn’t impose himself, you could point to their age and relative inexperience. McGeouch and Fyvie are the elders of the group at the grand old age of 22, while McGinn is the only one of the foursome to have played over 100 league games.
Such a claim may have had some impact on the performance, but it is contradicted with the display of the unit, McGinn and McGeouch in particular, in the home victory over the same side in early November, a match with just as much scrutiny as this contest. It is also at odds with Hibernian’s consistency since the last defeat to Rangers in August, seeing as they remained undefeated in all their games since. After all, young players are supposed to be naturally inconsistent.
The simple explanation is there is no reason. It’s football, it happens. Rangers were paying special attention to what Hibs, McGinn especially, were capable of, and they managed to stop that. They might not be so fortunate next time around.
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4) Nicky Law staked a claim for a regular spot
Law started his first league match since a 2-1 victory at Dumbarton all the way back on September 19, and there’s no reason why Warburton shouldn’t give his experienced midfielder another chance to make the spot beside Holt his own.
Gedion Zelalem is, undoubtedly, a more talented technical footballer than either Law or Dean Shiels, so it’s understandable why Warburton usually favours the on loan Arsenal man given Rangers’ preferred system. But even when you want to pass the opposition to death, you still require a bit of variance. It gives teams balance and helps to built effective partnerships. Law’s energy and enthusiasm for chasing opponents make him a better foil for Holt, especially in these tougher matches against better opponents.
5) Jason Cummings loves a goal against Rangers
That’s seven in nine games Cummings has scored against the Ibrox club, and while he may not have opened a tin of beans with the strike last night, he displayed terrific composure to wait for Wes Foderingham to commit himself before coolly lifting the ball over the Rangers ‘keeper.
Interest in the attacker continues to grow as January approaches. It will be key to Hibs’ chances of not only catching Rangers, but securing promotion altogether if they can keep their talisman until at least next summer.
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