Rangers get vital win at St Johnstone but this performance was bitty - even if Michael Beale can't catch break
So, for the time being at least, this win over St Johnstone digs out Michael Beale from the hole that has felt like a crater to swallow him up since the loss to Celtic in their previous outing. That derby dunting had elicited the most feverish spleen-venting from his own support for the Englishman to be dumped. There was enough in his team’s pretty straightforward success over the Saints – on a day when he made five, by choice, changes from the starting line-up that succumbed to the Scottish champions – to quell such insurrectionist chatter. Yet, not so much to be convinced that it won’t roar back in the not-so-distant future.
Ultimately, the Beale-bashers won’t exactly be thrilled at the prospect of Real Betis beedling their way to Ibrox on Thursday for the clubs’ Europa League curtain-raiser. Not on the basis of the bitsy-nature of their team’s play and the causal concession of possession in spells against a team entering the encounter propping up the rest of the Premiership. An affliction that characterised so much of the opening period from both sides.
Yet, to be picking holes in Rangers on a day when they crafted two fine goals, kept a clean sheet, and were well served by players promoted to the starting line-up in goalscorer Danilo – lost to a cheekbone fracture in the act of heading them ahead after quarter of an hour – Tom Lawrence and Ben Davies, is perhaps indicative of the decidedly awkward position Beale has found himself. A consequence of the 5-1 filleting by PSV Eindhoven to end interest in Champions League immediately preceding the skewering by Celtic. With the opening day loss to Kilmarnock, those three outcomes have left no slack for Beale to be cut.
Equally, it seems that the 43-year-old can’t catch a break. The gruesome-looking facial injury sustained by Danilo a case in point. The Brazilian demonstrated a predatory instinct notably absent in the endeavours of the man he replaced, Cyriel Dessers, in positioning himself between Liam Gordon and Andy Considine to dink in after 16 minutes. The strike proved the product of a sweeping move as the home team over-committed at their own corner. It allowed Rangers to make acres of space count with James Tavernier and Lammers exchanging passes for the captain to hang up a cross from the right.
Danilo’s reward, alas, was taking Gordon’s head full in the face as the defender challenged to be left looking like he had been set-upon by a baseball bat in a dark alley. The forward appeared distressed as he was helped off after a lengthy period when both he and Gordon – withdrawn then as a concussion sub – had recieved treatment as they lay flat out on the pitch. “After that the game got stuffy because it lost momentum,” said Beale. “In the second half we created more chances than we took but I was delighted with the second goal as well.”
That arrived in 79 minutes, when substitute Rabbi Matondo was sent away down the left by a measured pass in behind, and hammered past Dimitar Mitov with utter conviction. It was a moment not entirely in keeping with Rangers undulating endeavours. Not that they were ever under any great threat, aside from a brief flurry for Steven MacLean’s team after the break. Dara Costelloe swiping fresh air with the goal at his mercy after the ball was flashed across goal 54 minutes in. The chance came after two penalty calls for the home side were dismissed by VAR, helmed by Gavin Duncan. For the first, Chris Kane – in his first league start for 20 months – seemed to jump into the leg of keeper Jack Butland to end up spread-eagled. Kane may have been more sinned against when Lammers climbed on him at a corner shortly afterwards.
Beale wouldn’t necessarily have been breathing easy then, with his team only holding a single-goal advantage. But he could by the conclusion. If his changes had backfired, it would have meant another mighty-sized stick with which to beat him. Instead, minus the injured Todd Cantwell, the job he required his recast side to do was completed with Danilo’s facial injury the only real sore point. Both figuratively and literally.
“I’m happy enough because I’ve come to this stadium often enough and it’s difficult,” said Beale, he seemed keen to sidestep the importance of the victory for him personally. “The pitch was a bit sticky today and Steven mixed things up – he tried to make it a battle between the strikers and centre-halves.
“John [Lundstram] and Nico [Raskin] did well for us in front of our defence and Ben Davies was particularly good in his first start of the season. Ridvan [Yilmaz] grew into the game as well. But the story of today is Tom [Lawrence’s] first start in a year. To play 90 minutes is a big testament to the work he’s done with the medical team. We’d earmarked this game weeks ago as the one he was going to come back in. Kemar Roofe played another 90 minutes as well, which hasn’t happened in a long time either. So that’s two key things to add to the game. I’m pleased overall, it’s another clean sheet away from home and Jack didn’t have much to do in goal.”
How Beale could do with being able to say similar after facing up to Betis. An unlikely scenario.