Craig Fowler gives his take after Rangers out-score Hamilton at New Douglas Park
We got good Rangers and bad Rangers in the space of 90 minutes
Some terrific attacking football, a couple of great goals, star performers throughout the final third and an away win. There was plenty to be happy about for the travelling fans.
At the same time, Graeme Murty’s side were too open through the centre of the park, made basic defensive errors, and somehow conceded three goals to a team who’d only scored one in their previous four combined.
The head coach said he wanted his side to be tougher so he could shed his nice guy image. This was not a step in that direction. It was, however, an important three points on a weekend where Aberdeen dropped all of them in an away to defeat to Hibs. Speaking of which, the victory kept Neil Lennon’s rejuvenated side at arms length, sitting five points back in fourth. Considering how impressive they’ve been since Scott Allan’s return, that feels like an important distinction even this early in the season’s run in.
Jamie Murphy has arrived
The loan signing from Brighton showed glimpses in his previous games following his January capture. You could see the commitment to tracking back, the clever runs he made off the ball, the threat he carried when he got into the final third; it just wouldn’t quite tie together. This was understandable, given that he’d not played since September and was simultaneously getting reacquainted with Scottish football while trying to coalesce with new team-mates. Now it appears he’s fully integrated, up to speed and ready to show exactly why the Ibrox support was so pleased with his arrival.
Against Accies he was excellent, appearing at the centre of just about everything Rangers did as an attacking outlet. He notched three assists in the end, and could easily have had a couple more, in addition to his early equaliser, which seems almost incidental in hindsight but was hugely important at the time.
Hamilton need to rediscover their identity
Hamilton have never been the most talented of top flight outfits. They were never going to be. They have easily the smallest budget and will refuse to ever move from such a distinction unless a club with a more modest support wins promotion to the Premiership. Instead they’ve managed to continue punch above their weight by, basically, just being a complete bastard to play against. It took a brave flair player to venture into the centre of the park against Martin Canning’s side. There they’d expect to get almost zero time on the ball without one or two opposing midfielders nipping at their ankles.
The sale of Greg Docherty to Sunday’s opponents, loss of Darian McKinnon to injury and ongoing issues with Ali Crawford’s fitness means Accies have had to reinvent themselves in the middle of the park, and do so on the fly. Against Rangers, none of the midfield three of Ross Jenkins, Darren Lyon or Lewis Ferguson played poorly, there just wasn’t quite the same bite. In fairness to the trio, they weren’t helped by a centre-back threesome which could scarcely have been more generous when it came to giving space to their opponents in the final third.
With Ross County showing signs of life, Accies are in a real fight to keep themselves in the top flight. They need to start showing that in their performances. Even if they’ll struggle to beat many opponents, they at least need to avoid beating themselves.
Greg Docherty staked a claim for his place
The only one of the team’s January first-team signings to cost any money, Docherty was the last to get his first league start as he waited behind Jason Holt and Sean Goss in the midfield pecking order.
Only 21, Docherty is always going to be looked upon as a long-term project regardless of how well he performs in light blue this season. However, there’s no doubt that a strong start to his Ibrox career will help his chances of becoming a success in the long-term. Failure to make himself at least an important squad rotation player before the end of the campaign, with Ryan Jack and Graham Dorrans due back at some point, would rightly make him nervous.
If his showing against his old side is anything to go by, he shouldn’t have too much to worry about. His performance in the opening 25 minutes wasn’t much to write home about, but he soon settled down and showed the kind of football which persuaded Rangers to part with (a reported) £600,000. The longer the game went on, the more it became apparent he was the man running the engine room.
Having favoured the 4-4-1-1 in recent weeks and with Jason Holt to return from suspension, Murty has now got himself a team selection poser in the centre of the park.
In Lewis Ferguson, Accies feel they have their next Docherty
Prior to the sale of his star club-mate, Lewis Ferguson had yet to make an appearance for the Accies first-team. A month later, he’s made four consecutive starts and left New Douglas Park on Sunday with the home side’s man of the match award. It’s now no longer an experiment, or a damnation of Hamilton’s bare bones squad. Ferguson is now a first-team member. The 18-year-old has arrived.
Against Rangers he competed well in the midfield area, even when the tide was severely turning against the home side, and played a massive part in two of the goals: setting up Darren Lyon for the first and winning the penalty from which Dougie Imrie would smash home a late consolation.
When Accies sold Docherty they said it was because they didn’t want to stand in the way of a young player making his dream move. It’ll be a shame, though, if the next generation of youngsters coming through don’t get to play at the same level as the man who went before them just because that sale proved too costly in the context of this season. At least Ferguson looks like he’ll have say on whether that’s the case or not.