Craig Fowler gives his take after Rangers swept aside St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park.
St Johnstone made it easy for Rangers
Saints had been showing signs of live recently. There was the battling 0-0 draw against Celtic and a 2-0 victory over a previously resurgent Ross County, which gave them their first home win since October. However, this defeat was a return to the mean, at least in terms of what we’ve come to expect from Tommy Wright’s men this season.
Sean Goss is a deep-lying playmaker who likes to spray passes around the field. The way to reduce his efficiency is to get close to him, grind him down and make him feel like he’s in a battle. In the early going at McDiarmid Park it was clear the hosts had not read the scouting report, as they gave the QPR loanee time and space to do as he wished, including pinging a 50-yard ball over the defence for Alfredo Morelos to run on to.
When the striker was brought down, James Tavernier tucked away the resultant penalty and it already looked like being a long night for the home side just 12 minutes in.
Greg Docherty is settling in nicely
It was a big call by Graeme Murty to keep Jason Holt on the bench after the midfielder, who had captained the team recently, returned from suspension. Greg Docherty had impressed, at least in the second half, during his first league start against Hamilton. Most managers would have continued to bring him along slowly as Rangers had been doing, at least compared with the other January additions, by reintroducing Holt. However, it’s clear that Murty likes to keep a winning team. Most observers, for example, would assume that Bruno Alves is a better centre-back than David Bates, but the latter is part of a winning formula so why change it? It appears he’s applied the same logic to Docherty.
The 21-year-old kept his place for the win over Hearts, where he dominated the midfield battle, and gave another strong showing in this one.
Once more it should be pointed out (you should know: this is going to be a running theme) that St Johnstone made it rather easy on Docherty and co. Take the second goal for example. Docherty, Goss, Tavernier, Morelos, Jamie Murphy, Daniel Candeias and Andy Halliday all touched the ball in the build-up and none of them had to navigate themselves around a challenge of any sort. The home side just dropped deep and that’s all they did.
That being said, Docherty showed terrific vision and a flawless technique to perfectly weight his pass through for Josh Windass, who probably couldn’t believe his luck. After all, just about every Saints player was camped around their own box and none of them bothered to track his run.
Chris Kane might be Saints’ best option now
It was at this point that St Johnstone actually tried to engage with their opponent, do a bit of closing down and what not. There was even a very good move thrown into the bargain. It began with a Chris Kane header and ended with George Williams almost taking advantage of some slack marking by Docherty and Goss, only to be repelled by a brilliant Wes Foderingham save.
Saints didn’t do much on the night, but what they did do came through their lone central striker. Earlier in the half he played a couple of good balls around the corner for Blair Alston and Liam Craig, respectively, for promising moves that ultimately broke down. Ultimately he would go on to win the corner from which the hosts scored their only goal of the game, as Jason Kerr squirmed away from Russell Martin to head home.
Kane was so low down the pecking order earlier in the season that he was briefly shipped out to Queen of the South. While critics may say it was a piece of squad mismanagement from Wright, the player does seem to have returned a better player for it. With Steven MacLean’s powers on the wane, Williams still settling in and Denny Johnstone providing a more static presence in attack, Kane may represent the best all round option up front, even if his goals return isn’t what you may be looking for from a top flight striker.
That said, he was a little fortunate not to see red in this match for booting Bates off the ball.
Alfredo Morelos looks to be nearing his best
St Johnstone’s system was something else. They lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation which managed to include a central midfield three that was both too deep to contributed to the attack and not deep enough to protect the defence.
Taking advantage of the latter time and again was Morelos. Throughout the game, the attacker would control hopeful balls from deep and give his side a platform in which to launch an attack in the opposing half. He then topped off a fine performance with his side’s fourth goal.
While his goalscoring took a hit when rumours of a move to China first surfaced, it was in his play outside the area where you could really see that all the chatter was affecting him. At McDiarmid Park he was back to his dynamic best, always seeming to get on the end of direct balls up the park and finding a Rangers shirt with the next pass.
Sean Goss looks something of a free-kick specialist
Again (again!) the defending needs to be called in question. In the build up to the contest-ending third, the home side were defending a cross deep in their own area when Steven Anderson managed to cut it out and looked to launch a counter-attack. Instead of holding on to it until he got some support, Anderson knocked long for Kane. Surrounding by two Rangers defenders, the striker had little chance and the ball came right back. And still, despite having been back in great numbers just a couple of seconds earlier, both Tavernier and Murphy were able to be picked out in acres of space, the latter of whom used it to drive forward and win a free-kick.
Typically for set-piece opportunities on the edge of the area you don’t see the shooter looking to hit it up and over the wall. There’s not enough space. However, that’s exactly what Goss managed, getting it into the bottom corner and giving the keeper little chance. Two goals from free-kicks in eight games is a very promising return.