Kenny Miller proved his importance in attack, Rangers need a vertical option in midfield, Mark McGhee got his tactics right, Michael O’Halloran was a surprise starter and Motherwell’s cup misery continues, writes Joel Sked
Miller has to be the lead forward
If the season ended tomorrow there would be one man cleaning up at the Rangers awards’ dinner. Kenny Miller has been the club’s talisman, the most consistent player and the best player. His crucial brace to turn the game on its head were his sixth and seventh of the season. But he offers so much more.
He leads from the front with his attitude, his will to win, his non-stop running. He fits in to Mark Warburton’s system through his intelligence, his link-up play and willingness to move laterally across the pitch as well as vertically. He adds greater fluidity to the attack.
However, this willingness to sacrifice himself for the team is not only affecting his goal output but the team’s as well. For all of Rangers’ possession, when they got in to good areas to deliver there were too few bodies in the box. This penalty box presence was supposed to be what Joe Garner offered, yet the Englishman hasn’t lived up to his transfer fee.
The two times Miller got himself in to good areas in the first half he saw a header clip the top of the bar before a fresh air shot which he should have buried. He made no mistake in the second half. With the addition of Martyn Waghorn, playing in his best position from the right of a front three, Rangers had greater quality in the final third. While Barrie McKay and Michael O’Halloran threatened, Waghorn provided penetration when it mattered most. he delivered a fantastic cross, which was met by an equally brilliant header from Miller.
Miller then raced on to a Josh Windass through ball and dispatched clinically. Both of his goals came from in front of the goal. It should give Mark Warburton food for thought going forward.
Rangers need to play at pace
Rangers were excellent in the opening stages. They pushed Motherwell back by playing with intensity. Most Well fans would have been worried, but they needn’t be. Chances created were at a premium and then Rangers slowed. When they do so it makes them slow and predictable.
The Ibrox side have plenty of pace in the side but can often be too slow to move the ball in to areas where they can hurt teams. The ball goes from side to side when what is required is an injection of verticality from a midfielder. Jason Holt offers glimpses that he can provide those bursts but doesn’t possess the necessary acceleration.
If McKay and Lee Wallace are crowded out on the left Rangers need to look for different angles which sees forwards hunting for the ball. While Andy Halliday recycles possession at the base of the midfield, a player to move with the ball and link with the attack is required, increasing the tempo when it’s needed. As it was for much of the game.
Although neither showed it against Motherwell it will be interesting to see if either of the loanees can offer those qualities.
McGhee gets tactics right
There were a few surprises to Mark McGhee’s line-up. Joe Chalmers came in to the left of midfield in a 4-4-1-1, while Scott McDonald took his place on the bench. Motherwell had to survive an early onslaught in the opening stages but eventually got a foothold in the game
When Rangers entered the final third the Steelmen were quick to get in to a tight and compact unit on the edge of the box, making sure there was little space for forward runs. Richard Tait and Chirs Cadden man marked McKay and Wallace, with the Rangers duo adept at linking well.
The issue with the set-up was that it put a lot of pressure on Louis Moult who had to scrap against the Rangers centre back partnership. He had to hold the ball up to release pressure but was often isolated.
Yet, as the game progressed Motherwell sensed a vulnerability within Rangers. They pressed better when Rangers entered their half and then supported Moult who opened the scoring with a fine header.
Michael O’Halloran makes surprise appearance
Michael O’Halloran’s name on the team sheet raised a few eyebrows. He was linked with a move away throughout the week, including to opponents Motherwell, yet he was back in the line-up on the right of a front three.
His pace was a constant menace against Chalmers and Stevie Hammell. When given the opportunity he knocked the ball ahead of him, stuck his chest out and headed for the bye-line, which he did well. He sent a couple of dangerous balls in to the box.
Chalmers conceded a free-kick in a dangerous area with a trip on the winger before O’Halloran should have been awarded a penalty from a clumsy Hammell challenge.
However, one of the issues with O’Halloran is that these are sporadic flashes. He fades too often, too easily. Another complaint which could be made about him is that he struggles when receiving the ball with his back to goal. Warburton wants his players to be able to take possession in tight areas and play their way out.
At the moment O’Halloran is no more than a decent squad option rather than a player who has to play every week.
Motherwell’s cup misery continues
For the sixth season running Motherwell won’t be in a cup semi-final. Since the 2010-2011 campaign, when Well reached the Scottish Cup final and League Cup semi-final, the Lanarkshire side haven’t troubled the later rounds. That’s because every time they have come up against a fellow top-flight side they’ve been knocked out.
This defeat will perhaps sting the most. It was in their hands. All they needed to do was see out five minutes plus stoppage time. They failed to do so, a microcosm of their cup exploits in recent years.
Even when it looked like it would be a replay, McGhee’s men shot themselves in the foot with some very slack play in defence. Now focus switches to avoiding relegation.