Craig Fowler gives his take after ten-man Rangers battled for a point against Villarreal at Ibrox.
It’s not just Scottish referees
Throughout their Europa League campaign Rangers have been hampered by some poor refereeing. Against Rapid Vienna their visitors opened the scoring despite a clear offside in the build up. In Moscow they saw a perfectly good Alfredo Morelos goal ruled out by the lineman’s flag. Even in qualifying they were forced to do it the hard way after two soft red cards were dished out to Morelos and Joe Flanagan in the second leg of their play-off encounter with Ufa.
It happened again on Thursday night as Daniel Candeias was given two yellow cards in the first half, the second of which appeared particularly harsh as Morelos, Candeias and James Tavernier all converged on the same player, yet it was Candeias who bore the referee’s brunt. Without the extra man, Steven Gerrard’s men struggled to retain their attacking threat and a 0-0 draw always looked like their best possible result.
The irony is that this game was played a day after the club were charged by the SFA for an inflammatory statement which, according to the governing body, suggested referee Willie Collum has some sort of vendetta against them.
Supporters always tend to think Scottish referees are the worst of the worst. It’s the same at any club. However, if you take just the smallest peak outside our borders, you’ll see that most countries don’t have it any better. It’s the nature of the sport which causes such crucial decisions to be missed on a regular basis. Rangers have found this to their cost this season.
It’s possible to keep a clean sheet with sub-par defensive performances
As a team, Rangers defended superbly against Villarreal, especially in the second period when they were down to ten men. This was quite an achievement, especially when you consider that three-fourths of the back-line didn’t play well at all.
Connor Goldson, such a rock at the beginning of the campaign, appeared off balance for most of the night as he continually struggled to get the better of opposing attackers in one-on-one situations. Joe Worrall was better, but still looked shaky at times himself. Then there was Joe Flanagan. Not only was he continually beaten both inside and out, he almost laid a goal on a plate for striker Karl Toko Ekambi.
Luckily for the unit, James Tavernier, who isn’t noted for his defending, picked a vital time to have a strong display at right-back. And what else is there to say about Allan McGregor that hasn’t been said already? It was another terrific performance from the veteran goalkeeper.
The midfield three worked themselves into the ground
The back four were helped out immeasurably by the work of the three players patrolling the midfield ahead of them. Lassana Coulibaly, Scott Arfield and Ryan Jack created a wall that Villarreal found it so difficult to break through, even with their one-man advantage. They moved as a unit, scurrying across the width of the pitch to block off avenues and hungrily dove after the ball when the chance was there to dispossess the visitors.
It was a shame for Arfield that he was reduced to playing a purely defensive role in the second half, because his performance in the first 45 minutes was outstanding. Playing the No.10 role, his determination on the high press caused numerous problems for the Spanish side.
Villarreal were wasteful in front of goal
Rangers were quite unlucky in both of their matches against Spartak Moscow, two results which will be lamented if the Light Blues fail to defeat Rapid Vienna away from home in their final game and advance from the group. While that continued with Candeias’ red card, they can at least count their blessings that the La Liga side spurned some solid opportunities on Thursday evening to leave Ibrox with all three points and confirm their place in the knockout stages.
Ekambi may have tormented the Rangers defence, but he was profligate when it came to either pulling the trigger or making the final pass. And Ramiro Funes Mori will be wondering for some time how he passed up his late chance as he side-volleyed his finish well wide with the goal at his mercy.
Ross McCrorie is still trusted by his manager
The highly-rated youngster had played only three minutes of first-team football since the end of September prior to this match, leaving some to wonder about his long-term prospects. While he hardly added to that tally against Villarreal - coming on for the final minute of regular time and the three minutes of injury-time - it was still a high pressure situation with Rangers desperate not to let their hard work go to waste. That shows the manager still has trust in the 20-year-old to perform when called upon. It’s just a case of being patient.