Pedro Caixinha’s tenure as Rangers boss began with a comfortable and stress-free 4-0 Ladbrokes Premiership win over Hamilton at Ibrox.
It was supposed to be Pedro Caixinha’s first game in charge of Rangers that Ibrox was hosting yesterday. What unfolded was not a ‘game’ in any real sense but a glorified training exercise in which Hamilton’s myriad deficiencies allowed Caixinha to savour a scoring quartet and barely detectable resistance.
The Lanarkshire visitors – who have now conceded 14 goals in their past three games, and have slid to the bottom of the Premiership – looked like a team waiting to be put out of their misery even from the early exchanges. As a qualified bullfighter, the Portuguese coach would have recognised that, as soon as they conceded midway through the first period, Hamilton resembled the poor bull once the picador and torero have done their worst. That is, waiting for the end.
Rangers delivered that in emphatic, impressive fashion to rightly please Caixinha, as well as supplying the club with a biggest league win of the season that keeps them eight points behind second-placed Aberdeen. After the often joyless-looking football served up in the latter stages of the Mark Warburton era, it was intriguing that the new Rangers manager asked his players to perform with the freedom of children.
There was a tempo, drive and variety to the Rangers players that Warburton’s orthodoxy had threatened to excise from the side. But which, it should be noted, had started to reappear in the interim spell of Graeme Murty, concluded with a draw at Celtic Park last week. He appeared before kick-off for a wave, and his efforts were acknowledged by a Union Bears section with a banner that also welcomed “Pedro” to “the most successful club in the world”.
“He wants us to enjoy it. That’s why we’re here. We’re lucky to have this job and what better way than to go out and do it with a smile and be happy,” said midfielder Jon Toral, deployed in a 4-2-3-1 that soon had Hamilton stretching and straining. As they did in losing 6-0 at the same ground in the Scottish Cup only a fortnight ago.
That result, and losses to Celtic and Hearts in recent weeks, patently wearied Martin Canning’s men. He did not see this latest stuffing as Rangers breaking with their recent past because of the promptings of Caixinha, who received a warm reception from a commendable 49,090 crowd.
“I don’t think [Rangers were different]. They were similar,” he said. “The crowd was more vocal than in the cup game, similar to the first game of the season. They have good intensity, good players. They cause you issues and have good movement.
“The plan was to get so far into the game and open up towards the end. But we gave ourselves little opportunity to do that.”
Little or no opportunity, indeed. Canning acknowledged they were first sliced open in smart fashion, James Tavernier playing a one-two with Kenny Miller down the right before sweeping over a cross that was turned in by Emerson Hyndman.
The second goal, five minutes from half-time, illustrated why Hamilton – forced to play Dougie Imrie as a central striker – will surely be unable to stave off relegation. When Tavernier floated over a free-kick from wide on the right it seemed as if the visitors’ backline had signed a no-jump pact, the ball drifting over their heads and dropping at the feet of Clint Hill for him to tap in from close range.
Massimo Donati was behind and wrong side of Martyn Waghorn to make a penalty-box challenge 55 minutes in, the inevitable felling of the striker allowing him to thump a spot-kick down the middle for 3-0. Hamilton were fortunate to escape with only one further sore one.
This was provided by a fine move in the 74th minute that flowed from Lee Wallace bounding down the left and slipping the ball inside to Miller. In turn, he fed Waghorn, who provided a backheel that allowed the Rangers captain to net by lifting the ball over keeper Gary Woods.
Caixinha could not have asked for any more from his first afternoon; Hamilton couldn’t have given any less.