Craig Fowler gives his take as Rangers take both legs of their league double-header with Aberdeen, winning 2-1 at Pittodrie.
Win only muddies the waters further
If the rumours are to be believed, Rangers will make a move for Derek McInnes this week. From a PR perspective this could scarcely have gone any worse for the club’s board. They’re set to go after the man who was the most obvious candidate the second Pedro Caixinha was fired, but have waited until two of the worst results in his Aberdeen stewardship to make their move.
Undoubtedly they’ll be delighted with two wins from two against a fierce rival, but the victories could undermine their decision, which, again, has taken over five weeks to make. Going into this double-header, Rangers had hit their nadir, while Aberdeen came in with a squad everyone perceived to be stronger. Some were backing them to hand out a pasting at Ibrox. And yet, Graeme Murty not only managed to galvanise his team, he twice tactically outsmarted the man he may soon call “boss”.
With a sizable section of the Ibrox support already skeptical of McInnes, his honeymoon period - should he take the job - may be very short indeed.
Rangers easily won the midfield battle
McInnes felt his side responded to Wednesday’s defeat at Ibrox and competed much better. Frankly, this writer could scarcely disagree more. There was more physicality, but they still allowed themselves to be beaten in the centre of the park. Jason Holt and Ryan Jack, before his red card, dominated Graeme Shinnie and Kenny McLean, there always seemed to be space for Carlos Pena playing in the hole, and Ross McCrorie was again a robust screener in front of the defence. This in-game victory enabled Rangers to have control of the match for the opening 56 minutes.
Ryan Jack needs to learn some discipline
Yes, two of Ryan Jack’s four red cards this season have been rescinded. However, it both instances he got involved in off-field confrontations where he really didn’t need to. He gave the referee a decision to make and his team paid the price for it. On Sunday, just like when he was sent off against Hamilton, they were able to secure the victory despite his dismissal, but there’s no doubt he left them fighting an uphill battle.
Incredibly, some are trying to claim this isn’t a red card. It doesn’t matter that he plays the ball first. As we’ve covered previously on the site, there’s actually nothing about “playing the ball first” in the rulebook. This was a textbook definition of a tackle which “endangers the safety of an opponent” and undoubtedly qualifies for “excessive force” as well. It’s a red all day long.
It’s clear that Jack has a lot of passion for Rangers. He’s altered his game this term ever so slightly, and is playing with more fire in his belly. Generally, he’s played well, and was enjoying a fine afternoon at Pittodrie until the red card. But he needs to know how to channel this better because he’s already become a massive liability for his side.
Getting the most out of Greg Stewart is key for Aberdeen
The former Dundee attacker started on the right and was quiet and ineffective, which has been typical of his form since moving to Aberdeen. His position has him too far from goal to be much of a threat, while staying on one flank limits his usage.
As the hosts sought an equaliser late in the game, he was allowed to take up a more central role, and he finally began to influence the attack. Along with Frank Ross, who we’ll get to, he was a player who looked like he could actually make something happen, and went close with a couple of late strikes.
This is someone who was a Player of the Year nominee for two successive seasons, which is hard to imagine given what we’ve seen since his return north. If McInnes or whoever can tap into his undoubted ability, then the Aberdeen attack will be much better for it. They’re really missing a spark at present.
Frank Ross offers further hope for Aberdeen’s future
The young winger was excellent after coming off the bench, putting in arguably the most impressive performance from anyone in the home ranks. He looked confident, slinging in balls into the penalty box without hesitation and always looking to attack the opposing defence.
Along with Scott McKenna, Scott Wright and Daniel Harvie, Ross was one of four academy products who played their part in this match. The foursome give the club a solid core of talented young players and hope that an ageing squad can transition going forward and maintain the levels of recent seasons.
Even though they’ve yet to hit peak form this season considering the strength of their squad, Aberdeen still remain in joint-second. They’ve been consistent, but performances have been lacking on the whole. Looking around at the squad, there’s more than enough talent for them to be playing better, and if it eventually clicks they’ll be a terrifying prospect for other sides in the league.
These two factors should make it an attractive prospect for any number of managers should McInnes decide to leave the club.