It was another case of deja vu for Rangers and their fans
Friday night’s game was a microcosm for Rangers’ season. Very early promise gave way to frustration. A hammer blow was soon struck, though they did manage to find some life. Riding the momentum to a satisfactory conclusion looked a distinct possibility, before things completely fell apart.
It was so familiar because it was the same team, with its strengths and many weaknesses, that we’ve been seeing all season. The defence can’t defend, the midfield offers no protection and the forwards can’t score. In between all of that, there was plenty of possession and a number of shots on target, which counted for nothing in the end.
Graeme Murty went back to the 4-3-3 following last weekend’s trip to Dundee. He’d gone more direct in the Dens Park defeat, and having watched them improve of the second half in the contest, clearly felt it was the best way for them to play.
And to be honest, with the players at his disposal, Murty is probably right. This team is set up to play in a 4-3-3 with possession-based football because that’s what they have. The problem is, and this has been a dirty little secret for some time, the players just aren’t that good. At least, they’re nowhere near the level where Rangers fans want them to be.
A new manager coming in until the end of the season, say Alex McLeish for example, will right the ship, but barring a collapse from Aberdeen they won’t be able to salvage anything other than third place. This team just doesn’t have enough balance - no midfield enforcer, too many weak defenders, not enough ruthlessness up front - to go on a run of six or seven consecutive games without making fools of themselves.
Billy Mckay is back
Having been gone for over two years, it was great to see the real Billy Mckay back in action again. Those of you with even a passing knowledge of Scottish football outside of “the bubble” may be thinking to yourselves ‘hang on, didn’t Mckay play for Dundee United last season?’ You’re right. He did. But, while he had some decent moments, over the piece he was a massive disappointment as United slumped down the table and eventually out of the top flight.
The Tannadice faithful never got to see the real Billy Mckay, the Inverness CT Billy Mckay. Like Rudi Skacel with Hearts, some players just seem to turn on the magic at one particular club. Mckay loves Inverness and the fans love him.
Forget his winning-goal overhead kick for a second, his all-round play in this match deserves to be recognised and applauded. For such a diminutive striker, both in terms of height and breadth, Mckay is such a terrific lone frontman. He holds the ball up better than most forwards twice his size. This was key to Inverness CT’s victory, as it enabled the hosts to have everyone else back defending when Rangers had the ball.
At the end he should have been knackered. He’d chased long balls and lost causes all game long, all while putting Danny Wilson and Rob Kiernan under severe pressure, and yet he was the player more than anyone in the final ten minutes who looked most likely to score. And score he did.
Murty really likes Toral
The interim boss spoke to BT Sport afterwards and said Jon Toral and Emerson Hyndman were the two best players on the park. If you’re Hyndman, you probably don’t know exactly how to take that. Sure, you think you played well (he did), but you can’t be sure when the manager is saying the guy behind you also had a really good game (he didn’t). Up is down, black is white, and nothing makes sense any more to the Bournemouth loanee.
Toral did have an excellent through ball for Martyn Waghorn that last season’s top goalscorer could have done better with, but other than executing five-yard passes, there wasn’t a whole lot else to his game, and he was a liability on the defensive side.
He did very little to stop the threat of Inverness in the hole between midfield and striker other than stand in the general area. It’s no coincidence Caley Thistle’s opening goal came as a result of this, with Toral too slow to react to the loose ball and close down Greg Tansey before the midfielder unleashed his unstoppable drive.
At one point during the commentary it was asked why Hyndman and Toral were playing while Jason Holt, who’s contracted to the club, sat on the bench. What they should have been asking was why, when Rangers needed a proper defensive midfielder all season, did they go out and loan two attacking midfielders in January?
Warren (and Meekings) will likely to return
Actually, the other thing Toral did of note was to fire a shot wide after being released by a terrific Hyndman pass in behind. That chance came about because Louis Laing, the January recruit playing instead of club stalwart Gary Warren, charged out of position for little reason, leaving the Spaniard a free run into the penalty box. Laing, who other than a completely bonkers 15 minutes actually had a decent game, then lunged in on Lee Wallace when the left back was set to cross, giving away a penalty.
Inverness CT have lost only two goals in the two games where Laing has started alongside young Celtic loanee Chris McCart, but Richie Foran shouldn’t confuse causation and correlation. Warren and usual partner Josh Meekings used to be one of the league’s very best centre-back duos. Neither of them are having a good season but, for the most part, they’ve been offered little protection. It’s affected their form and eroded their confidence.
In the last two games, Foran has finally embraced pragmatism. The full-backs are no longer pushed up high, Tansey isn’t settling into a sweeper role behind the centre-backs, and Iain Vigurs isn’t in the starting XI. It’s defensively resolute. Put Warren and Meekings into that system and it’ll get even better at the back.
Rangers could finish fifth
If they fail to get a new manager in place before the end of the season.
It’s clear the players know exactly what situation they’re in under Graeme Murty. Though the decision to keep Joe Garner sitting on the bench until the final seconds after he scored last week was bizarre, Murty could one day become a good head coach with good ideas of how he wants his team’s to play and the identity they should have, but the players know he’s not going to be the next boss. Everyone is just waiting around in limbo expecting something to happen.
Should Hearts and St Johnstone win tomorrow then Rangers will be only three points ahead of fifth place. It would mean no European football next season. Even fourth place would be reliant on Celtic winning the Scottish Cup, and that’s not a scenario Rangers fans want to face.
It may sound far-fetched, but St Johnstone have been oddly poor at home this season. At present, they are the only team in the entire league who’ve won more away games than home ones. If they can replicate that form at McDiarmid Park over the rest of the season, they’ve got a great chance of catching Rangers.
Hearts, despite being in fourth right now, seem less likely to overtake the Ibrox side, seeing as they’re in a bit of a crisis themselves following Wednesday’s shambolic display against Hibs in the Scottish Cup. However, the Tynecastle side did defeat Rangers and Motherwell in back to back games only three weeks ago, winning both by three goal margins. Rangers haven’t scored three in a game since October.
They must hire a new boss soon.