Carlos Pena has his uses
There’s still some ways to go before Carlos Pena will take a game by the scruff of the neck and dictate the Rangers attack.
Outside the box, he’s not a particularly effective player. He still wants more time on the ball than the Scottish game is ever going to grant him, and he seems unwilling to try and turn in possession, often choosing to send it back from where the pass came from. However, there’s no denying that the guy can sniff out a chance inside the penalty area.
In addition to his two goals, he had another couple of decent opportunities against St Johnstone. His adjustment to Scottish football continues to be slow, but as long as he keeps scoring nobody is going to care.
Rangers welcomed the return of Bruno Alves
This was arguably the Portuguese international’s best display in a Rangers jersey as the Ibrox side kept a clean sheet for the first time since August.
It was the kind of match-up that favours the veteran, as St Johnstone often sought to go direct to Steven MacLean or Graham Cummins. Alves was second in Serie A in aerial percentage last term, and he gobbled up almost all of the heading opportunities which came his way at McDiarmid Park.
There were still gaps to be found among the Rangers rearguard, which is always going to happen as long as the full-backs have free rein to go forward when they please, but Alves successfully managed to rope together a strong last-line of defence which continually managed to rebuff St Johnstone’s advances.
St Johnstone go direct when Graham Cummins starts
Coming into the game, Cummins was third in the Ladbrokes Premiership with 16.46 aerial duels per 90 minutes. Despite what stereotypes of Tommy Wright’s St Johnstone may have you believe, this is not typical of the Perth side. In fact, their 470 aerial duels as a team is fourth lowest in the top flight. It’s quite a variance and demonstrates the drastic change in gameplan when Cummins is on the field.
St Johnstone actually battled well in the midfield considering they were a man down in the area, and penned Rangers in their own box for a few sporadic periods throughout the game. Yet even though they bombarded the opposition box with cross after cross, and continually sought out Cummins with long balls from deep, St Johnstone found little joy.
Graham Dorrans is finding his role
Considering the expectation which came with his signing, Dorrans hasn’t quite lived up to his reputation yet in a Rangers shirt.
After excelling against Motherwell on the opening day, including bagging a brace, his form soon went cold. This was largely down to a system which didn’t particularly suit the Scottish international. He and Ryan Jack were tasked with keeping an eye on the defensive side of things, as Pedro Caixinha laid his team out in a old-school 4-4-2 with two wingers.
Since moving to a 4-2-3-1, Dorrans has slowly begun to get back to top form, with the performance against Saints his best since the opening day. Playing as a No.8, ahead of Jason Holt (or Ryan Jack when available) and behind Carlos Pena suits his skills a lot better, as it gives him the freedom to contribute to both attack and defence. It allows him to utilise his years of experience, show off his range of passing, and enables him to get closer to goal, where he’s got a great strike on him.
Stefan Scougall adds a bit of class to the Saints midfield
One of the positives for the hosts was the undersized playmaker on the right of St Johnstone’s 4-4-2. Scougall always sought to find space, even when there was limited supply on the wing, and keep the play moving. Largely he’d rely on short, sharp passes, but his vision was such that it allowed him to switch the play or thread the ball through for the attackers whenever the situation allowed it. He was certainly the hosts’ most accomplished attacker on the night and arguably their best player.
St Johnstone are still to find their rhythm this season. Even during their worldwind start, where they remained unbeaten through five games, including a draw at Celtic Park, the performances weren’t always there. Results elsewhere could see them slip down as far as sixth on Saturday, putting more pressure on Tommy Wright to find his best XI. Whatever he decides, Scougall should probably be a part of it.