Craig Fowler looks back at a frustrating afternoon for Rangers as Hamilton earn a hard fought point in the SPFL curtain-raiser.
Ali Crawford is one of the league’s best goalscoring midfielders
It will have done his future career prospects no harm to produce such a top display in front of the TV cameras in the season’s curtain-raiser. He thrived where his opposite number - big name summer signing Niko Kranjcar - failed by getting himself involved in the majority of Hamilton attacks and successfully pressing when not in possession. His finish was top notch but it’s what we’ve come to expect from Crawford, who’s a threat anywhere inside 25 yards. Hamilton really struggled when his form dropped between November and March last season. If he can consistently play to the level he showed at Ibrox for the entire campaign, Hamilton can defy pre-season expectations and beat the drop once again.
Rangers are not back
At least not as the fearsome, conquering side prior to their financial implosion. You can’t read too much into 90 minutes but this was nearly as palatable an opening game as you could ask for. Hamilton were the consensus pick to finish bottom and lost 8-1 in a fixture across the other side of Glasgow last season. Failure to get three points and look in anyway convincing doesn’t say much for Rangers insistence that the current squad is good enough to win the title in its first year back, though the result will look a whole lot better if Celtic slip up at Tynecastle tomorrow.
Accies were right not to follow Mark Warburton’s advice
The Rangers boss claimed the underdogs should come to Ibrox and attempt to go toe-to-toe with their hosts. Whether this was mind games or not is besides the point, Accies were never likely to do it and they rightfully gave themselves the best chance of winning by sitting in for long periods and attacking with numbers on the counter. Although, they may have taken all three points if they’d been even more defensively minded after giving themselves something to hold on to. At the beginning of the second half the away side appeared to be defending as if it were the final ten minutes as they struggled to get out of their own area. But at the same time, Rangers looked incapable of playing their way through. In the end Accies were caught out when a wayward Michael O’Halloran pass encouraged the defence to step up, expecting an attack, only for Joey Barton to steal the ball from Dougie Imrie. The midfielder then gave it to Harry Forrester and the substitute exploited the situation to find Martyn Waghorn running in behind the pushed up Accies back-line.
Joey Barton should be a star in this league
The Englishman was certainly the high point of Rangers’ performance, particularly in possession. The veteran has a terrific range of passing that allows him to either spray it out to the wings or split the opposing defence from deep. He does this with no hesitancy, showing terrific poise and accuracy even when being closed down quickly. He would later show his tenacity without the football, successfully executing a middle-of-the-park slide tackle on Imrie that launched the attack from which Rangers would equalise. And when he was pushed forward later in the match he showed great confidence in shooting when the chance presented itself, even drawing a good stop from Remi Matthews in the Hamilton goal.
Fake walls are the way to go
During the first half, Rangers won a free-kick right on the corner of the Accies penalty area when Anton Kurakins, who was also at fault for the goal and had a rougher time defensively than the rest of his colleagues, fouled Andy Halliday. For the set-piece, which was to be taken by the left foot of Waghorn, Rangers stationed their own wall of players adjacent to the defensive wall of Hamilton. Waghorn aimed for his team-mates and they promptly ducked out of the way as the ball travelled past and struck the outside of the post before bouncing away. It was an unusual but understandable tactic, as Rangers sought to block the view of Matthews in goal, and it almost worked to perfection. This may not be the last of it.