To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Rangers didn’t get the desired “new manager bounce” after handing the role to the guy who’s been holding the fort since late October. Seven days after losing 3-1 at home to St Johnstone – a result that Rangers could have little complaint about given their lack of quality – they followed it up with this defeat at Rugby Park. It leaves them 11 points behind rivals Celtic, third in the league table, one week away from the Old Firm derby.
Kris Boyd striking twice in the space of three second-half minutes may suggest some sort of good fortune on the part of the hosts, but this was far from the case. Rangers managed to lead at the end of an even first period, but Kilmarnock were by far the better side after the break and should have levelled the scores long before the former Ibrox hero reminded the away crowd of their club’s inability to do anything right on the park as well as off it.
Graeme Murty may have been handed an early Christmas present when the Ibrox board granted him the job of manager until the end of the season, but unless he’s granted every wish from his January window shopping list, and Rangers are able to bring in around half a team to improve this shallow and disjointed squad, then it’s unlikely his stay will be extended beyond the initial timeframe. Then again, with this Rangers board you just never know.
“Targets have been identified. But before any of that happens, we need to make sure that those guys walking on the football pitch understand their roles and have every opportunity to execute,” said Murty.
“You’re always playing for your future as a footballer. You’re always chasing the next contract or the next game. You have to earn the right to play, every single day. I know right now that I’m being judged by many people, likewise the players. And if you want to be at this football club then you need broad enough shoulders to deal with that, and to perform.When we do the basics well, we look a good team. When we’re sloppy and slack, we invite other teams to exploit areas, and that’s what I thought it was today. I thought Killie did the basic stuff better.”
Both goalkeepers remained relatively trouble-free throughout the first third of the match, as the two teams lacked fluency and a cutting edge in attack. The opening goal, as well worked as it was, came almost out of nowhere. Daniel Candeias played Josh Windass down the right and when his low cross found Declan John, the left-back – playing in midfield thanks to the absence of Ryan Jack – produced a deft little finish to steer the ball home at the back post. He immediately ran to the Rangers crowd, who’ll be hoping for further moments like this across the next three-and-a-half years after the Welshman made his loan from Cardiff a permanent deal on Friday.
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Kilmarnock took to the restart with renewed vigour and rained attack after attack on the away goal. Boyd had a header saved by Wes Foderingham before the goalkeeper pulled off similar heroics again two minutes later, diverting the striker’s effort wide of goal with his foot. Eamonn Brophy then went next, narrowly missing the front post after being found by a Stephen O’Donnell cross. Both players would have Killie’s next two chances, as Brophy flashed a powerful shot right at Foderingham before O’Donnell’s left-footed finish was cleared off the line by Hodson.
Rangers created two opportunities to double their advantage through the lively Candeias down the right. The winger first saw a cross headed over by Windass on 60 minutes, then he was left booting the advertising hoardings in frustration after Morelos, for the second time in the match, failed to make contact with a back-post delivery.
Rangers would rue those opportunities when Boyd struck twice in quick succession. Youssouf Mulumbu’s through ball broke the offside trap and, with the defence slow to react, Brophy raced on before calmly crossing for Boyd to side-foot home. The same three players would then play their part in the winner. Mulumbu picked up possession after Brophy was tackled on the edge of the area. With time and space, the Congolese midfielder – excellent throughout – decided to go for goal. His effort would have gone wide if not for the intervention of Boyd, who diverted the ball back towards goal and watched as it spun into the air and over the head of the despairing Foderingham.
The visitors would have one final opportunity in which to salvage something when James Tavernier’s free-kick found David Bates – in for the rested Bruno Alves – alone in the penalty box. Instead of testing the keeper, however, the centre-back managed to miss the ball and see it come back off his standing leg.