Craig Fowler gives his take as Rangers secure three points at Pittodrie despite facing a lot of pressure from the hosts.
Rangers are much more defensively organised
There’s still the odd problem, like the acres of space left behind James Tavernier whenever the right-back ventures too far forward on some attacks, but overall Rangers look a much more organised unit in defence. Sunday’s shut-out means they’ve now gone 267 minutes without conceding. It’s not a statistic that’s all that impressive - until you consider it’s the longest they’ve gone without conceding all season in the league.
Previously things would fall apart at the back without Clint Hill’s leadership, and yet that’s two clean sheets in a row with Danny Wilson partnered by young David Bates. When Aberdeen had the ball, which was the majority of the second half, the away side would retreat into a compact 4-1-4-1, giving the unfamiliar pairing plenty of support.
As a quick aside, this sort of performance disproves the theory that you can’t be a strong defensive side if you don’t have great centre-backs. Gordon Strachan should take note.
The game underlined the importance of McGinn and Hayes
Aberdeen go with their pair of talented wingers. If either of them don’t have a good game, chances are the Dons aren’t going to win. Rangers made it their business to limit their impact in this one with Martyn Waghorn and Kenny Miller, who were operating on the wings, dropping back to help assist the full-backs and deny entry passes to either of the Aberdeen two.
Asking forwards to do this job instead of natural midfielders meant Rangers retained a threat in attack, as they looked to spring forward on the counter whenever possible.
The first goal was a good case in point, with Miller drifting in from the right-hand side to hammer the ball high into the net after Waghorn’s chance was saved.
Hayes and McGinn still had their opportunities in wide areas to do some damage, but often the final ball was not good enough, a criticism that can be applied to at least five of the seven corners won by the hosts.
Kenny McLean deserves some praise for still having a strong performance when those around him weren’t fully at the races. The midfielder was pivotal to Aberdeen ramping up the pressure in the second half. Whether coming deep to receive or looking for space in advanced areas, McLean always seemed to find himself on the ball and move the attack forward.
Joe Dodoo is worth a run in the side
While Pedro Caixinha is still a little unfamiliar with his players, Rangers fans could probably tell him everything he needs to know about the strengths and weaknesses of Martyn Waghorn and Joe Garner over a season. The former will have games where he’s unplayable, but routinely fail to perform in big matches. And the latter will fight and scrap for every inch, but doesn’t carry much of a goal threat.
With that in mind, isn’t it time Joe Dodoo was given a run in the Rangers side? So far he’s been limited to three starts in all competitions, despite making a massive impact after coming off the bench in two games now. He turned a November trip to Partick Thistle on its head with two well taken goals, and again helped Rangers stem the tide following his introduction against Aberdeen.
In addition to laying on one goal and scoring another, his pace and willingness to run with the football gave Rangers an added threat in attack.
Foderingham continues to prove his worth
Clint Hill and Kenny Miller are likely to be the leading contenders when it comes Rangers’ player of the year award, but a more deserving candidate would be the club’s goalkeeper, who once again pulled off some terrific saves between the sticks to keep Rangers in the match.
He’s arguably one of the league’s most underrated players. His biggest errors have come in high profile games, which has hindered his reputation, while the air of negatively that’s hung over the club all season has clouded his performances. In each and every fixture he pulls off at least one top class save, and is one of few players who should remain in the Rangers side when they try to build for the future in an attempt to get closer to Celtic.
Aberdeen’s collapse was very un-Aberdeen
Derek McInnes alluded to this himself in the post-match press conference. While they may have lost a goal, which would have stung having controlled the majority of the second half, there was still enough time left in the game for Aberdeen to get back into the match. Instead, they completely crumbled and were unlucky not to lose 4-0 after Dodoo and Miller both missed chances in a late attack.
It’s not what we’ve come to expect from the side in second place. In addition to their stellar play they’ve shown a lot of mental fortitude in recent months, proving themselves capable of grinding out results and keeping their focus at peak levels from week to week.
Fans will be hugely disappointed with Sunday’s result, but unless a collapse is around the corner they’re still likely to have the last laugh when Aberdeen finish above Rangers at the season’s end.