RANGERS have scored only eight goals in seven league games, a record worse than any of the top six and Inverness CT. According to one statistician, they’ve converted only one in their 50 attempts on goal from open play. While it may not reflect well on their strikers, any manager will tell you they’d rather have the chances and miss them than not have them at all. The former at least suggests the attackers will soon begin putting them away with greater frequency if they can find some composure, and Mark Warburton will rightly preach patience on that front. At the other end, however, there is little to indicate Rangers will soon find a magic cure to their woes at the back.
Pittodrie is not the kind of away trip where you can gift your opponent a free goal. Should Rangers have netted more on the day? Perhaps, but it’s difficult to break through this Aberdeen squad, especially in the bigger matches. Celtic have netted more than a single goal only once in their last five visits to Pittodrie. Hearts haven’t done it in their last three. Rangers would have known going into the game that conceding once could do severe damage to their chances of getting something, and yet they could barely have made it any easier for their hosts less than 30 seconds after half-time.
There are three culprits. Four if you’re feeling harsh. The main offender is Clint Hill, who drops so deep that he plays Jonny Hayes well onside, only to change his mind when it’s far too late, thereby granting the Aberdeen winger all the time he requires to put his side in front. The most troubling aspect is that he appears to be on a completely different wavelength from the rest of the back four.
On first glance you may think he’s tracking the runner, and then unwisely changes his mind. In actual fact, he begins moving backwards almost as soon as Dons’ keeper Joe Lewis punts the ball downfield. We can see this in Picture One. The ball has barely left the Aberdeen box, and Hill is on the move. Hayes has also begun his run by this point, but we can safely guess from what follows that Hill wasn’t tracking him all the way.
As we can see in Picture Two, none of his team-mates do likewise. Danny Wilson goes to challenge the ball (he’s not strong enough in his battle with Adam Rooney), Lee Wallace stays high, as does James Tavernier. The latter should follow Hayes’ run. He may believe the plan is to play for offside, but it’s more likely he’s just caught ball watching and allows his man a free run through the centre. Hill’s anger with the rest of his defenders is there for all to see when the ball goes in the back of the net.
Regardless of what his team-mates were up to, the veteran still retains the lion’s share of the blame, as he should have remained committed to his first instinct. His limitations in terms of pace have been well documented, but he still would have been able to stay with Hayes given his head start.
In Picture Three we can see that, despite changing direction twice, he still gets fairly close to Hayes by the time the attacker shoots for goal. Had he remained committed he likely would have been in position to force Hayes further wide, and probably prevented him from shooting entirely. Instead, he’s spooked by the realisation he’s deeper than any other defender and chooses the wrong option, trying too late to play offside.
You could also question whether Wes Foderingham may have done better. It is a tight angle. Other than firing through the goalkeeper’s legs, there’s not a lot for Hayes to aim at. That may be a little harsh, though, and Foderingham is the only member of the Rangers defence to deserve pass marks for his contribution on that end of the field so far this season.