Rangers eased into the last four of the William Hill Scottish Cup with a comfortable second half performance at Ibrox against Hamilton Academical. Rangers midfield trio shines in what has been a good week for the team, although they will have to improve with Celtic on the horizon, writes Joel Sked.
Officialdom in the news again
John Beaton and his fellow officials will unlikely tune into Sportscene this evening. Their performances will come under the microscope following two potentially game-changing errors, while debate surrounded the penalty award which put Rangers ahead.
So, in chronological order.
In the 13th minute a through ball appeared to be running to Wes Foderingham to clear with Rakish Bingham chasing after it. However, not for the first time this season, the Rangers goalkeeper took a risk and waited for the ball to enter the box to pick it up. Bingham was quick, provoking Foderingham to pick up the ball outside the box and carry it into the box.
It was a very difficult decision for Beaton to make but he should have been helped by his linesman who had a clear view of the incident. If it was seen it would have surely been a red card for the Rangers stopper having denied Bingham a tap-in.
The penalty which Martyn Waghorn converted could be filed under the soft category but Beaton, positioned well, called it right. Grant Gillespie had went to sleep after a short corner, allowing Jon Toral to get goal side. He tried to rectify his mistake by cuddling his opponent then standing on his foot as the midfielder attempted to fire towards goal.
Beaton could have no excuses for his poor handling of Joe Garner’s reckless challenge on Dougie Imrie. The Hamilton midfielder moved the ball away from the advancing Rangers forward. It did not stop the hat-trick hero - he had scored once by this time - from taking a wild swing and connecting with Imrie high up the thigh.
Both Beaton and his assistant had a good view of the incident. The yellow card was a dumbfounding decision. Even if both Garner and Graeme Murty said the referee was correct.
Not the best afternoon for the officials.
Midfield trio shine brighter
In recent months, calls for Andy Halliday to be dropped grew. His nadir may have been Tynecastle in January when the away support had finally lost their patience with the midfielder.
His is a difficult role. He’d prefer to play a little higher in midfield rather than the base but he never helped his cause by taking too long on the ball, getting caught in possession in dangerous areas too many times.
Jordan Rossiter has been a big miss, sitting out the majority of the season through injury, meaning ‘Holywood’ Halliday, as he was known at Middlesbrough has had to become the fulcrum of the midfield.
He has been replaced by Jon Toral, who hasn’t been looked upon as an upgrade among the Rangers support. Questions have even been asked as to whether it is a part of his contract that he has to play. However, in front of the defence he is less inclined to dally on the ball, preferring to keep it moving.
Jason Holt and, specifically, Emerson Hyndman have provided Rangers with a dynamism, linking midfield and attack. Both are capable of providing, linking and moving defences.
Both added ingenuity to the this afternoon’s encounter. Holt, who had been dropped in previous weeks, brought an injection of pace to proceedings at time, darting behind the Hamilton midfield.
The trio’s relationship will be key against Celtic.
It has been a good week for Rangers
Following Billy Mckay’s late winner in the Highlands to give bottom side Inverness Caledonian Thistle a vital three points, Rangers must have been fearing the worst with a trip to Celtic Park on the horizon.
It was one of the Ibrox side’s worst performances of the season. They started well but floundered as the game went on. They were at a low ebb with little direction both on and off the field. But winning football games has proved an elixir.
The Gers were excellent in the first half against St Johnstone. They played with verve and confidence and come the final quarter of the match were two ahead. As the game entered stoppage time they were level. If the last few weeks have been anything to go by they were more likely to lose than win, especially as they were down to ten men. But they rallied and got a big goal to win and close the gap to second-placed Aberdeen.
They followed that victory with this afternoon’s defeat of Hamilton. Rangers weren’t at their best, especially in the first half. But to win so comfortably will do wonders for their confidence ahead of the fourth Old Firm clash of the season.
Going into the game with fear will lead to one outcome. Confidence and high spirits have been restored among the players as well as the fans.
But they will have to improve
If Rangers are to end Celtic’s unbeaten domestic run they will have to bring their A+ game. Even to get a draw they will likely have to be at their very best.
They will need to channel last season’s penalty shoot-out victory at Hampden in the semi-final clash with their rivals. Yet, they’ll still need more. That’s why it is crucial they will need stability this week ahead of the trip.
If it was a trip to Ross County or Kilmarnock they could get away with further instability at the club but not ahead of the derby. The players need security in the build-up so they can get on the training ground and work on plans (plural) to frustrate Celtic and then find the weakness(es) that they will seek to exploit.
In the first half against Hamilton, once again, there was a lot of space for Rakish Bingham to attack when the ball came forward. The full-backs will have to temper their tendency to move forward, while the front three which started - Barrie McKay, Kenny Miller and Martyn Waghorn - may need to be shaken up to provide more solidity.
It would be no surprise to see Lee Hodson come in to the team with James Tavernier moving forward. So often 4-3-3, they will likely have to become 4-1-4-1 and remain compact, move forwards and backwards as a unit. If any player switches off or if the system becomes disjointed they will be punished.
It’s not quite a forgone conclusion that Celtic will win but Rangers will have to be more than the sum of their parts. And then some.
Accies’s set piece nightmares
On Tuesday evening Hamilton defended wilfully, eking out a crucial 1-0 victory at home to Aberdeen in their fight to avoid relegation. Anyone watching the game would have been left shaking their head at what was a game of defence v attack for the vast majority of the match. Or to be more specific, a game of set pieces.
Accies went ahead in the ninth minute when Michael Devlin steered in a free-kick, from then on Accies repelled Aberdeen again and again, and again. The Dons had 21 corners plus countless other crosses into the Hamilton area. Devlin, his fellow defenders and, on one occasion, the post denied Aberdeen.
Martin Canning would have taken a lot of confidence heading into this afternoon’s quarter-final tie. They would be required to defend for a lot of the game again. Standing up to Rangers’ early pressure it looked like Hamilton were set to frustrate Rangers as they did Aberdeen.
They even showed more ambition than they did on Tuesday when they had an early lead to hold on to. The ball was passed around with pitch with an assuredness and purpose, only for the any attacks to break down when they got into areas which mattered.
Six goals later, it was a harrowing afternoon.
The controversial decisions which went against Accies aside, Canning would have not been pleased at what unfolded. Rangers had seven corners and scored with four of them.
Rangers opened the scoring from a penalty, but it came following sloppy marking at a corner. Rangers took the corner short before it was played on the ground into the middle of the box around the penalty spot. Jon Toral had got goal side of Grant Gillespie who felled the Spanish midfielder via a gentle cuddle and trod on his foot.
Rangers added three more from corners in the second half. By the time Joe Garner had scored his first and Rangers’ second Georgios Sarris had been replaced by Craig Watson. Rob Kiernan easily won a header, diverting it goal-wards. Garner anticipated, turning the ball past Remi Matthews, while his marker continued to stand still and watch the ball from Kiernan’s head to Garner’s boot.
Scott McMann would replace Blair Adams, who had been brought into the side as Canning went 4-4-1-1, adding to further disorganisation in the box. Clint Hill powered the easiest of headers into the top corner after easing away from Watson.
Toral netted his first for Rangers after the ball fell to him in the box to fire goal-wards. He had previously been denied by a fine Matthews save after wriggling free in the area.
Hamilton had the bodies in the box but they were too often too slow to react to Rangers’ movement or anticipate as quickly as the home side.