Pedro Caixinha is certainly daring to be different. The trip to Kilmarnock tonight for his Rangers team might not be one of the pivotal matches of the season. Yet, the recently- arrived Portuguese coach electing to reveal the starting XI as the answer to the first question posed to him at his pre-match press conference yesterday still provided an arresting moment. Not least because his line-up came in response to an enquiry about his likely injury absentees.
“I can tell you – it’s Wes [Foderingham], James [Tavernier], David [Bates], Danny [Wilson], Miles [Beerman], Andy [Halliday], Jason [Holt], Emerson [Hyndman], Barrie [McKay], Joe Garner and Martyn [Waghorn] – this is the first eleven that will start the game tomorrow,” he said, in a move that broke with Scottish football convention.
There was a temptation to conclude Caixinha could be so straightforward about his XI – which will bring full debuts for young defenders Beerman and Bates – because injuries to Clint Hill, Lee Wallace, Rob Kiernan, Lee Hodson and Philippe Senderos have left him with few other options. Wallace, indeed, is set to miss the Scottish Cup and league double-header with Celtic at the end of this month as the result of surgery on a stomach problem.
“It’s not a question of that’s all we have, it’s a question of confidence in the players in the first team as well as youth players who work with us on a regular basis,” Caixinha countered. “Besides that, even if Lee [McCulloch, Kilmarnock manager] knows the first eleven he will not be able to change anything about the way he plays. We know it will be a tough game and we will have to adapt and call the game ourselves – this is the reality and this is our first eleven. I don’t care if they think differently knowing our team 24 hours before we play.”
Caixinha has “confidence and trust” in Beerman, and no doubt Bates, as his Rangers side seek to recover from the two points dropped in the home encounter with Motherwell at the weekend. Despite Caixinha’s bold changes at the interval of his second game in charge, with their product restricted to a Joe Garner equaliser, they fell ten points behind Aberdeen in the joust for second place.
Any slip-up tonight from a side that will feature six changes from the starting XI at the weekend, could render Sunday’s trip to Pittodrie academic in the push to dislodge Derek McInnes’s side.
Caixinha, left, who will name his assistant next week, stressed that while the “maths” made the turnaround possible it was important to “keep the flame in that direction”.
Garner is prepared to allow it to flicker and, as with his manager, he believes the number of head-to-heads between the Ibrox side and Aberdeen offers up hope of a big finish to the season. To say nothing of the Scottish Cup semi-final against a treble-chasing Celtic in a fortnight... which will be immediately followed by a hosting of Brendan Rodgers’ newly-crowned champions.
“We have got to think like that,” he said. “The semi-final is a massive game for us and isn’t too far away.
“We play Aberdeen a couple of times so there are a lot of points to play for. If we can take six points then it closes the gap. We have got to think like that.
“The season is not over for us. We have to try and stop Celtic and get to the cup final. We play them in the league and it would be nice to get three points against them. That is what we have got to get and do.”
Garner is certain Rangers won’t be underprepared for any assignment, the change to a six-day week and the swotting up on opponents marking notable departures from the Mark Warburton era.
Garner calls it “different” but says all involved will “get on board with it”. That includes the chefs now having to arrive with Caixinha at 5am of a morning.
“We don’t have Wednesdays off but I was at Watford with [Gianfranco] Zola and he did a similar thing,” added Garner. “It is maybe a foreign mentality and how they work. We buy into it. He is the manager and you do as he says.”