While he was not the big name they may have been hoping for, Rangers fans quickly took to new boss Pedro Caixinha after he showed himself to be nothing like predecessor Mark Warburton.
Where the old boss remained stubborn in his team selection and tactical outlook, refusing to take the strengths of the opposing side into consideration, Caixinha spent a large chunk of Friday’s pre-match press conference talking up Motherwell and how he expected the Fir Park side to play. Louis Moult would start up top with Scott McDonald as the “shadow striker”.
Unfortunately for the Rangers manager, and his team, Motherwell threw their hosts a curveball on Saturday, going away from the preferred 4-4-1-1 they’d played through most of the season, and starting with a back-three and three strikers.
The visitors took the lead through a Moult header and they held the advantage with a degree of comfort throughout the opening 45 minutes. The Ibrox crowd grew increasingly agitated and booed the players off at half-time. As far as the tactical battles went, round one was a significant victory for Caixinha’s counterpart, Motherwell boss Stephen Robinson.
“You have to give the manager credit for that,” said McDonald when asked about Rangers struggling to cope with Motherwell’s 3-4-3 system. “He told everybody on Thursday how positive we were going to be and we did that.
“I think teams definitely fancy their chances coming to Ibrox now after the start to the season they had. The fear factor hasn’t been there.
“Rangers have started really well under the new manager against Hamilton and he is making noises before the game saying he is going to put the fear into us. It can work for you, but we took the positives out of what he said and we came here and asked questions of them.
“They didn’t know how to cope. You saw at half-time when he had to change it.”
And change it he did. Caixinha, pictured right, later insisted he was forced into making all three substitutions at half-time – a claim even McDonald backed up – but other options were available. For instance, Philippe Senderos could have replaced Clint Hill and the shape of the team could have remained the same, albeit with a pair of make-shift full-backs. Instead the formation was transformed into a 3-1-4-2, which saw Rob Kiernan become the only recognised defender alongside Jon Toral and Andy Halliday, neither of whom have likely played centre-back in their lives.
Motherwell created a glut of chances after the break. They even had the ball in the back of the net for a second time, but it was rightly ruled out for offside when Moult’s goalbound strike deflected off Stephen Pearson.
Oddly, though, Caixinha’s change did work. They equalised when Joe Garner volleyed home Kenny Miller’s deep cross and created enough chances to win the three points, the most notable of which fell to Emerson Hyndman deep into stoppage time.
“It happened pretty quickly – it came from a long throw – and I got a nick on it and I was hoping it would drop in but unfortunately it didn’t,” said the loanee from Bournemouth.
“I don’t think anyone was too thrilled with the first-half performance and the manager showed he isn’t scared to make changes.
“We knew we had to make some sort of change. He told us what he wanted from us and we delivered it quite well. We got going really early on in the second half and looked more of a threat.
“The manager was calm at half-time. He explained things like that happen in football. It can get a bit dicey at Ibrox and the fans can get on to you, which is fine and you understand that.
“It was a new one for Jon Toral playing in the centre of defence but he did quite well.”