Craig Fowler has his say on events at Firhill as the hosts stopped Rangers from going top of the Ladbrokes Premiership table.
There’s still no sign of it all coming together under Pedro Caixinha
Every time there’s a hint of Rangers turning a corner, every time they get some momentum going, every time their fans get excited... BAM! Another let down.
This time it came quite unexpectedly. Not because Rangers were assured of victory over Partick Thistle - though they defeated them four times last season, the two wins at Firhill were highly fortunate - but because the first half led the away fans to believe that this could have been another routine win. The game was in the palm of their hand. They had the lead through Alfredo Morelos, missed a couple of other good chances and barely gave Thistle a sniff at the other end.
Even at the beginning of the second half they didn’t start too badly. Daniel Candeias had an excellent chance in the first 60 seconds after Josh Windass picked out James Tavernier with a superb, inch-perfect 40-yard cross-field diagonal. Once Thistle scored, though, their self-belief shattered and the team ethos fell apart. The movement wasn’t there, the urgency had gone, and in the instances where they did get into promising positions, rather than show patience the attackers began shooting from 30 yards.
Thistle recognised the weakness of the visitors and began to push up, and Rangers had no answer for it. Had Chris Erskine not been sent off for his foolhardy challenge on Morelos, Thistle probably would have held on to all three points. Prior to the red card, they looked just as likely to score a third as Rangers did in finding an equaliser.
Alfredo Morelos’ confidence is sky high
One player who doesn’t lack confidence is the Colombian striker who gave the visitors the lead. The most impressive thing about his rifled opener was the inevitability of it. As soon as he peeled off the back of Jordan Turnbull to give himself a couple of yards of space you knew there was a real danger it was ending up in the back of the net. Even an iffy first touch which took him slightly away from goal wasn’t enough to dissuade him. His finish was everything his team-mates weren’t in the second half: driven, decisive, deadly.
Miles Storey’s movement is a real asset for Partick Thistle
The summer signing is still trying to adjust to his new team-mates and surroundings, but he’s shown enough in his short-time in a Thistle jersey that he improves Alan Archibald’s squad. This game may have been his most impressive performance to date as he gave Fabio Cardoso an absolutely torrid time with his movement and physicality, and had a hand in the build up to both goals.
Throughout the match, Storey went hunting for the space in the final third and mostly found it out on the flanks, where there was often space behind the attacking full-backs. On occasion it would be to the detriment of their scoring chances, as there was no-one to finish off the move Storey was helping to create, but his ability to find these pockets allowed Thistle to haul themselves up the park and stopped Rangers from being able to camp in their half.
The 3-4-3 worked to an extent in this game, but one can only wonder what would happen if Alan Archibald paired Storey with Kris Doolan in a 3-5-2. The former could run the channels while the latter stuck within the width of the posts, looking to finish off the opportunities created by his strike-partner.
Adam Barton’s composure was the perfect tonic
Cards on the table, this writer is not much of an Adam Barton fan when he’s playing in midfield. As a ball-playing sweeper in a back three, it’s a different story. In defence he’s given greater space in which to operate his special brand of cool, oozing class and composure as he strides forward purposely with the ball at his feet. In the engine room, where things can get a little frantic and fast-paced, he can sometimes get lost.
For those in the Thistle support who have similar reservations, Friday’s game should assure such fears, even just a little. In a match that was so frenetic, especially the second half, Barton’s knack for keeping his head up and playing a safe pass was valuable to the Thistle cause. He may not have scored and set up another like Blair Spittal, but he also wasn’t making rash decisions and conceding possession with alarming regularity. They’ve all got their parts to play, and Barton certainly did his.
Rangers’ defence hasn’t improved
Bruno Alves, Fabio Cardoso and a host of better players operating in front of them, and Rangers still can’t keep clean sheets. Friday’s game made it five league games out of six in which the opposition have scored, taking their total to eight conceded. That figure is one fewer than this time last term, which included the 5-1 hammering at Celtic Park - and guess who Rangers are playing next in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
So what’s the issue? Firstly, Cardoso needs to step up his game. He’s a safe enough option, but he’s yet to stand-out at the heart of the defence and prove he’s definitely a better option than Danny Wilson. He’ll need to adapt to the game in Scotland and start dominating opposing strikers. If that’s not through being more physical, he’s rather sinewy for a centre-back, then he needs to figure out some way of routinely putting them in his back pocket.
Secondly, the system still leaves the centre-backs exposed. James Tavernier and Lee Wallace will continue to attack, and it doesn’t appear like the 4-4-2 system gives Rangers enough to cover the gaps in their absence, especially with Graham Dorrans usually charging forward to support the attack also from centre midfield.
Then there’s the individual errors. Cardoso at the first goal, Alves at the second goal, Tavernier at the second goal, Tavernier again at the second goal. It’s the same old story and it doesn’t look like changing.