IT MUST have been a curious experience for Rangers supporters as they bore witness to a new era at Ibrox. So new was Mark Warburton’s first home selection, there were probably as many recognisable faces in the line-up of visitors Burnley.
A whopping seven players with which Warburton is hoping to revive the club’s on-field fortunes were starters. Jason Holt did so as a trialist with his signing yet to be confirmed following Rangers agreeing a £65,000 compensation fee with Hearts for his move.
The curious need not be unappealing and, even allowing for the reverse suffered, the displays of the home debutants offered genuine encouragement for the club’s followers – who numbered a creditable 22,344 – and their new manager.
As a possible comment on what Warburton inherited, as a reflection on the players brought to the club by Ally McCoist but who were not – or could not be – freed in the summer, his first notable starting 11 might be considered damning. So too the fact that the football produced by a bunch of players practically thrown together in a matter of days could seem to have greater unity and vitality than all too many Ibrox teams these past three, torturous years.
In some ways, Rangers are embarking on the year zero reset that should have been set in motion when the old club was liquidated in 2012 and the latest incarnation began life in the fourth tier. Then, a whole new approach, with new players and a new coaching team – at a fraction of the cost of the previous regime – was cried out for.
Under Warburton, assistant David Weir and their merry band, Rangers may now have that. Frankly, if they utilise their £5 million budget properly, the Scottish Championship ought to be hardly the most exacting set-up. That is, of course, providing the Englishman can construct a team that is competent, cohesive and offers a degree of class.
Rangers followers will be cheered that, in right-back James Tavernier, all three aspects were in healthy evidence. The defender only arrived from Wigan alongside striker Martyn Waghorn at the weekend. The composed fashion in which he drove forward from deep and covered the ground effortlessly to shackle Scotland international George Boyd illustrated why there was disquiet from fans of the English League One club at his departure.
Waghorn didn’t make such a favourable first impression, but only because he failed to capitalise of two fine openings in the early period. Yet the forward, who Leicester City once recruited for £3m, looked sharp in the manner he pounced on balls in the area, even if he should have prevented Scotland goalkeeper Matt Gilks saving when getting a shot away midway through the period.
A third former Wigan man, Rob Kiernan, settled well at centre-back alongside Danny Wilson, who was beginning his second spell with the club. The former Hearts captain, given the armband last night, did not do so in the best possible fashion in appearing at fault for the goal that settled the friendly. He seemed to switch off and allow Scott Arfield to dart forward and beat new keeper Wes Foderingham, the former Falkirk forward reacting to a flick-on from
ex-Motherwell frontman Lukas Jutkiewicz.
The Rangers team, for the 64 minutes before a raft of substitutions anyway, wasn’t just unfamiliar because of summer arrivals, with Andy Halliday performing competently as a sitting midfielder as Holt operated on the fringes. Barrie McKay, following two seasons when he has been bouncing about on loan, was a surprise starter against opponents relegated from the English Premier League. Alas, he may not be so favoured again soon.
McKay featured on one side of a front three with David Templeton on the opposite flank. Again, the former Hearts winger, who long ago lost his way at Ibrox, must have been pleasantly surprised to have the opportunity to demonstrate to Warburton and Weir he could have something to offer.
Templeton was bright, which pretty much summed up the home side, who had new face No 8 of the close season in their ranks when Manchester United product Jordan Thompson appeared for the final half hour. Of course, when it comes to predicting future outcomes, friendlies are about as reliable to form as reading tea leaves. Although Warburton has sought to downplay its importance by bracketing it as part of the pre-season programme, Saturday’s Petrofac Training Cup tie at Easter Road against Championship rivals
Hibernian will offer a better guide to how quickly Warburton might be fitting together a new team.
In terms of quantity, he certainly doesn’t lack for component parts. Quality will be determined over time.
Rangers: Foderingham; Tavernier, Kiernan, Wilson, Wallace; Holt, Halliday Law;, McKay, Waghorn, Templeton. Subs: Kelly, McGregor, Miller, Clark, Aird, Shiels, Zaliukas, Hardie, Thompson, Walsh.
Burnley: Gilks; Lowton, Duff, Mee, Lafferty; Kightly, Ulvestad, Jones, Boyd; Jutkiewicz, Arfield. Subs: Cisak, Taylor, O’Neill, Ward, Keane, Hewitt, Anderson, Dummigan, Gilchrist, Jackson, Whitmore.