There is no doubt that Joe Garner throws himself into his tasks with abandon. As an old-fashioned rumbustious centre-forward, though, the problem is that there appears to be too much gusto in the abandon with which he attacks, writes Andrew Smith.
Garner, his £1.7 million move from Preston in August making him the most expensive signing at Ibrox since Rangers’ liquidation in 2012, admits that he practically required to reinvent himself since he joined up with Mark Warburton’s 4-3-3 passing side.
The culture shock to a 27-year-old his manager described as being “entrenched in 4-4-2” and being a target man that “wins free kicks and picks up second balls” is real. Never, indeed, has a goal in a debut in the major Glasgow derby appeared so meaningless.
The effort, to make it 2-1 at half-time in the league game at Celtic Park last month that ended in an humiliating 5-1 reverse, has been the only moment of note in a stint with Rangers that sees him mostly restricted to outings from the bench – where he is likely to begin this afternoon as his team meet Celtic again with a place in the Betfred League Cup final at stake.
Warburton is a man who prides himself on being strategic so it is curious that he should push the boat out for Garner when the player was never going to settle smoothly into his system, a derby demanding bustle and aggression providing his one moment of – short-lived – joy.
“The goal was completely wiped out by what happened, but we’ve got an opportunity to put it right [today],” Garner says of his scoring effort against Celtic. And it seems he has had to wipe out how he is used to playing the game in the physical lower leagues now that he is with a man that demands pass and move. “It’s obviously a different type of football to what I’m used to, but I’m putting a lot of hours in on the training ground and I’m slowly getting there. With time, we’ll only improve as a team and as a squad.
“The pattern of play, the football the gaffer buys into, playing out from the back and getting on the ball [is different]. The possession stats are a lot higher than teams I’ve played in before. It was a bit of a change, but I feel like I’m improving every week. There’s a lot more getting on the ball, coming off different angles as a striker. Football’s football at the end of the day. Every manager has different styles and types of play. I’ve bought into it and with Davie [Weir, Rangers No.2] and the gaffer’s help, I can only improve.”
Warburton wants his players to have the belief they can beat Celtic this afternoon after their trauma at Parkhead and Garner believes that explains going through screenings of their highlights in the Scottish Cup semi-final in April they won on penalties after handing Celtic a football lesson in the 2-2 draw that preceded the spot-kicks.
“We’ve watched it a few times and gone through how we played that day,” said Garner of the victory before he joined. “We’ll try to replicate that and hopefully it works for us. I think we got after them a bit more [than at Celtic Park] we maybe showed a bit too much respect in their home fixture.
“The gaffer has gone through it with the lads recently and hopefully we can implement what he wants us to do. He’s a top, top manager, he’s gone through it himself to find what we can improve on as a team.
“I personally believe that [we are now a more dangerous prospect than last time], I’ve been training and putting the hours in. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and it’s obviously going to take a little bit of time.”
Time is something Garner will also learn works differently at the Glasgow clubs.