Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha has learned his first lesson since his introduction to Scottish football: in future try to retain an element of surprise.
The Portuguese astonished everyone present when he reeled off his starting XI at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday. Admittedly shorn of options due to injury, it was a bold move. Some might contend foolhardy.
Kilmarnock had plenty of time to devise a game plan and it earned them what could prove a vital point. Their reward might have been greater had Sean Longstaff’s header not flashed by the post in the dying moments.
Caixinha had to send for Kenny Miller at half-time with the veteran providing his customary energy. He was probably Rangers’ most effective player on the night, meaning the manager’s personnel decisions were placed under further scrutiny.
There was another poor Joe Garner outing to report here with the almost mandatory booking due to a poor, unnecessary and potentially dangerous tackle. Kilmarnock’s Luke Hendrie was one left crumpled on the ground on this occasion shortly after half-time.
Garner was withdrawn midway through the second-half, replaced by Joe Dodoo. The striker had missed perhaps Rangers’ best chance when heading weakly at Freddie Woodman just after the half hour mark.
Caixinha was again unafraid to make changes. He used all three substitutes in the end but to no avail.
The home side will be happy enough with this outcome. Rangers’ need for was win was perhaps more desperate if they are to eat into the gap between them and second- placed Aberdeen, who they play on Sunday. Their aim is now to overturn a 12 point deficit between now and the end of the season, which seems a mighty task indeed. But given Rangers’ unfamiliar looking defence, their success in keeping a clean sheet here had to be applauded.
Youngsters David Bates and Myles Beerman were both thrown in for their first starts in a re-shaped back four. Lee McCulloch, the interim Kilmarnock manager with more than a little knowledge of Rangers’ abilities, would not be doing his job had he not demanded that his side to prey on the uncertainty bound to result from an opposition defence required to feel their way into the game on a tricky hybrid surface.
Indeed, the pitch could well have accounted for Miller and Jon Toral being left on the Rangers bench at the start. While both are at very different stages of their career neither require an extra threat of injury.
But Bates, a summer signing from Raith Rovers, was pushed into a starting slot at centre-back. He kept his nerve admirably while clearly displaying some initial unsteadiness. Beerman was exceptionally accomplished at left-back.
Try as they might Kilmarnock had little to show for their efforts to catch Rangers cold. Just a speculative shot from Conor Samson caused Foderingham undue alarm while a free-kick late in the half from a promising position after Tavernier’s nudge on Jordan Jones was sent into the wall by Kris Boyd.
In between times Rangers carried more of an attacking threat but struggled to create clear-cut chances as well. A Martyn Waghorn cross was flicked away from Emerson Hyndman by Ajer’s well-timed intervention while Garner wasted Rangers’ best opportunity of the half when heading too near Woodman after Barrie McKay’s cross.
While the Rangers striker’s effort was weak the Kilmarnock ‘keeper did well to block from such close range.
Cainxinha clearly felt Rangers needed a little more composure as well as cutting edge and brought on Miller at the start of the second-half. The veteran has been playing deeper of late and replaced Hyndman in a position just behind Garner. Miller caught the eye immediately to again throw into question Caixinha’s decision to delay re-signing talks with the 37 year-old.
He looked eager to make a point last night and was as sprightly as players nearly half his age. Rangers fed off his enthusiasm and came close to opening the scoring through Danny Wilson’s header from McKay’s corner.
Woodman’s block saw the ball spin up and hit the woodwork before rebounding back into play. Wilson was crowded out as he tried to stab a second effort towards goal.
Woodman also saved a header from James Tavernier and watched in relief as the same player sent a free-kick high over with two minutes left.
There was still time for Kilmarnock to fashion a chance but Longstaff’s header from Sammon’s cross was bulleted wide with Foderingham beaten and the Kilmarnock fans already on their feet in expectation of a goal.