Craig Fowler gives his take as Rangers advance to the quarter-finals of the Betfred Cup with a 3-1 win over Kilmarnock.
Some were too quick to write off Alfredo Morelos
I’m not including myself in this. Despite tremendous pressure to the contrary, I refused to sell my property on Morelos island and now I’m reaping the rewards. And by “rewards” I mean this opportunity to be a smug git in an article that will be read by a few people.
Morelos was never a bad player. He just had a problem with his composure inside the penalty area. And guess what? He still does. While the officials undeniably bungled Rangers’ non-goal, as the Colombian’s scuffed shot clearly crossed the line before Stephen O’Donnell cleared, Morelos should really have burst the net. It was an easy finish and he swung at it wildly, as he tends to do.
He also remains a hothead who’ll make bad decisions based as a result. Having refused to properly learn his lesson from two weeks ago, a deliberate barge by Gary Dicker as Rangers sprung forward on the counter provoked Morelos into deliberately hauling him back. It’s better than a kick, but it still halted his own team’s promising attack.
However, there’s absolutely no doubt that he has the skills to be a great player, and it’s never been more evident than at Rugby Park on Sunday.
Where to start? His movement, always one of his strengths, continues to be out of this world. Defenders have an absolute nightmare trying to keep up with him around the penalty area. Then there’s his link up play. For a man who loves nothing more than to fire the ball fiercely towards goal, outside the penalty box he recognises and respects his role as a team player (when he’s not in a huff). And lastly, he’s got the physical skills you need. Despite his height disadvantage to most centre-backs, he often wins the battle thanks to a low centre of gravity and excellent leap. It’s one thing to push Scott Boyd around, it’s another to ragdoll Kirk Broadfoot.
It’s likely that Morelos will always be a player who misses a glorious chance for every one he scores. But if he continues giving defenders the run around, works well within the framework of the team and, most importantly, still actually score goals, then what does it matter?
(I’m fully prepared for this to come back and bite me when he misses from three centimetres at Celtic Park in two weeks’ time.)
Andy Halliday still has a future at Rangers
Ok, I’ll admit that I definitely didn’t see this one coming.
When Steven Gerrard waxed lyrical about Andy Halliday after Rangers’ win over St Mirren last weekend it seemed like a coach doing his best to man-manage a situation. Without an available left-back, Halliday would need to fill in for the second-leg clash with Maribor, so why not boost the player’s confidence? Logic dictated it wouldn’t be much more than that.
Then Halliday was inserted into the centre of the midfield for the trip to Rugby Park. Ninety minutes later and it would seem that Gerrard wasn’t just being over-effusive in his praise to ensure a means to an end.
There wasn’t anything particularly awesome about the player’s performance. He just didn’t put a foot wrong. His passing was crisp and accurate, his movement was good, and he did a solid job of covering the space in front of the back four.
With a number of players leaving Ibrox this summer as part of Gerrard’s overhaul of the squad, it seemed certain that Halliday would be one of those out of the door. It’s early days into this redemption story and plenty of time for it all to go spectacularly wrong again, but even getting to this point, where he’s got a chance to be a trusted back-up, is something that few of us saw coming.
Kilmarnock should eagerly await Findlay’s return from injury
Both centre-backs toiled terribly against Morelos. As already stated, it’s a difficult task trying to keep the 22-year-old in check. However, few have struggled as spectacularly as Broadfoot and Boyd did. Whether it was Broadfoot losing him for the opening goal, Boyd getting turned inside his own penalty area for the second, or Broadfoot losing him again for the third, they just couldn’t handle him at all.
With Broadfoot, at least he was succumbing to a problem that a lot of defenders have when it comes to marshalling the player - his movement. But Boyd appeared to have little idea of how to even approach trying to defend him. The amount of times he got too close to the attacker, thereby giving Morelos the chance to use his backside and roll around him, must have grated on the home support long before the game was over.
Findlay, absent through injury, shouldn’t be overly concerned about trying to win his place back when he’s fully fit.
Rangers are working and defending as a team
There was a moment in the 44th minute which highlights how much harder Steven Gerrard’s side are working off the ball for each other.
Kilmarnock’s Chris Burke managed to get into space on the left-hand side of the away penalty box. As he advanced towards a more central area to either have a shot or set up a team-mate, Ryan Kent came charging in and yanked the ball from him, halting the attack.
This was right after Rangers had scored their second. It would have been easy for concentration to drop, especially as half-time was just a minute away. And it was Kent making the challenge, a skilful winger signed to cause damage at the other end of the park, and here he was racing 40 yards back towards his own goal.
Kilmarnock still have a missing link
The hosts appear to lack that player in the centre of the park who can be an attacking threat in the final third while also retaining the side’s steeliness. Last year that player was Youssouf Mulumbu, and while they can’t expect to replicate that sort of like-for-like ability with a new recruit (not unless the still free agent Mulumbu decides to come back) Killie should still be looking for that sort of player.
As previously mentioned, Halliday played well in the holding role, but there wasn’t really anyone to truly challenge him. Burke was going at Borna Barisic, Jordan Jones was facing off with James Tavernier and the two strikers were going up against the Rangers centre-backs (with Eamonn Brophy doing a decent job against Connor Goldson). Killie’s centre-midfielders, Gary Dicker and Alan Power, do their best work further back. That’s fine in a 4-4-2 when you’re set out to defend, but it’s not much use when a goal is required. At present Iain Wilson appears to represent the best option, but the 19-year-old is still finding his feet and is not yet ready to be that kind of difference maker.