Fresh from fiercely defending on-loan winger Nathan Oduwa against charges of wanton showboating, Rangers manager Mark Warburton isn’t about to start apologising for the Ibrox side’s lack of aerial threat.
One of Rangers’ specialities was once attacking crosses into the box.
Perhaps surprisingly for those who have not seen much of the new-look Ibrox side, out of the 17 goals scored in just four outings so far this season, not one has been a header.
From a club who once boasted the aerial prowess of Mark Hateley and relied on the pin-point accuracy of wingers such as Brian Laudrup and Neil McCann, this is a departure from what has been the norm. Indeed, even more recently Ally McCoist appeared to be convinced the best way out of the lower leagues was to pin your hopes to a target man with a talent for headed goals, hence the signings of Kevin Kyle, Jon Daly and Kris Boyd, among others.
But not Warburton. He is more at ease with playing the ball on the ground, whatever the venue. The synthetic grass of Alloa’s Indodrill stadium, where Rangers triumphed 5-1 on Sunday, is a tricky surface on which to employ such tactics, with the players unaccustomed to how the speed and bounce of the ball is affected. As late summer turns to autumn, and the surfaces become still less kind, will Rangers persist with such a refreshing outlook?
Warburton is adamant they will. He is a keen follower of the philosophy espoused by Brian Clough, with the legendary Nottingham Forest manager once pointing out that if God wanted football played in the air, he would have put grass in the sky.
Rangers will look to continue to showcase this expansive new policy, where playing the ball to feet rather than head is the key, at Somerset Park in tomorrow’s Petrofac Training Cup-tie with Ayr United.
Warburton admitted that had he someone like Peter Crouch to call upon, then things might need to be different. “We haven’t got that but we’ve got some very talented attacking players,” he said. “Last season at Brentford we had very small players – 5ft 6in, 5ft 7in – so there was no point in throwing the ball into the box. Teams against Rangers will look to condense the area and look to defend the penalty box, so what’s the point in us throwing the ball in?
“If we’ve got good possession up to the final third, we’ve got to be better than throwing a hopeful ball in. We have to be clever, keep shifting the ball and find an opening. It was challenging on the surface [at Alloa] but I keep saying every day that we have to show patience. If we can do that, we will be alright.”
Warburton wants Oduwa to keep on entertaining, providing his flicks and feints are executed in the final third of the pitch. But he has no problem with Wes Foderingham taking a few risks, even so close to Rangers’ goal-line. He has urged his goalkeeper to continue playing the ball out from the back, even it if means some inevitable heart-in-mouth moments.
“I’m really delighted with Wes,” said Warburton. “I can’t speak highly enough of his contribution. “I see people criticising him but he’s been asked to play out from the back and get us started. I think he’s been outstanding. He’d one save yesterday from a free-kick which was his fifth save in four games.
“The stats I looked at were that Wes played out 87 per cent of the time yesterday and we got started in their half 77 per cent of the time from that. These are big numbers. Against St Mirren, it was 74 and 88 respectively. It lets us keep the ball in their half. If our keeper launches the ball and it’s a 50/ 50 battle, that’s not for us.”
While Scott Allan’s capture would only have enhanced Rangers’ claim to be an attractive, ball-playing outfit, Warburton was not prepared to become involved in a slanging match with Alan Stubbs.
The Hibs manager has suggested that Rangers made one last desperate attempt to persuade Allan to come to Ibrox prior to his move to Celtic, confirmed on Friday.
“I’m not going to lower ourselves now,” said Warburton. “I think we’re far better than that. Hopefully we have displayed the right level of professionalism throughout the whole saga.
“I’m not going to comment about another manager, far from it. But I’ve always said that I only want players here who want to play for Rangers Football Club. I have made that really clear.
“I’m guessing he [Allan] didn’t want to be at Hibs,” he added. “That’s what I’m presuming, but that’s not my business.”