'Not our normal selves' - the factors behind Rangers' poorest performance under Giovanni van Bronckhorst

In the nine matches Rangers played from the date of Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s appointment in November up until the rescheduled winter break kicked in at the end of December, they were effectively a personification of their manager.

USA international midfielder James Sands pictured in action during his debut for Rangers in their 1-1 draw against Aberdeen at Pittodrie. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
USA international midfielder James Sands pictured in action during his debut for Rangers in their 1-1 draw against Aberdeen at Pittodrie. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Assured, calm and precise are all adjectives which can be readily used to describe the Dutch coach and could equally be applied to the manner of Rangers’ initial performances during his impressive start to life as Steven Gerrard’s successor.

But at Pittodrie on Tuesday night, the Scottish champions were none of those things. Knocked out of their stride by Aberdeen, they looked uncomfortable in a display which lacked clarity and fluidity.

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It certainly wasn’t the way van Bronckhorst wanted his team’s title defence to resume but there were mitigating factors for a result which has trimmed their lead over Celtic at the top of the table to four points.

Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara tussles for possession with Aberdeen captain Scott Brown during Tuesday night's Premiership clash at Pittodrie. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The biggest issue for Rangers was a lack of authority in midfield where the much-trailed absence of Joe Aribo, their most influential performer this season, because of Africa Cup of Nations duty with Nigeria, was compounded by injuries to Steven Davis and Scott Arfield.

It left Rangers with no-one capable of effectively countering the swaggering leverage effected in the engine room by Aberdeen captain Scott Brown who was ably complemented by Lewis Ferguson and Teddy Jenks.

While Ianis Hagi’s game awareness saw him plunder Rangers’ 20th minute opener, the Romanian playmaker was too often smothered in his efforts to impose himself in the ‘number 10’ role.

Behind him, Glen Kamara and debutant James Sands formed a dual defensive screen in front of the Rangers back four. While they carried out those duties effectively enough, neither player was able to find a tellingly creative foothold in the contest.

“We weren’t our normal selves, which can happen in a game,” was van Bronckhorst’s typically pragmatic assessment.

“We should have been more confident and dominant on the ball, to maybe create the second goal.”

Van Bronckhorst was ultimately grateful to preserve his unbeaten record as Rangers manager with a point, Ferguson’s 73rd minute penalty kick claiming a more than merited share of the spoils for an Aberdeen side which finished well in the ascendancy as the visitors were reduced to 10 men by Ryan Kent’s late dismissal.

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While it was a testing set of circumstances for Sands to be pitched in for his first start, van Bronckhorst declared himself satisfied with the 21-year-old recruited from New York City.

"It was not not an easy game, he did well,” said van Bronckhorst. “It was a difficult game not only for him but for us as a team. I think he did well, especially in the second half when we brought John Lundstram also into midfield to give more power and to block up.”

Rangers are back in action on Friday night with their Scottish Cup fourth round tie at home to Stirling Albion, providing van Bronckhorst with an opportunity to rotate his squad before returning to Premiership business against Livingston at Ibrox next Wednesday.

“I have to think about that,” he said. "We will assess the players and make sure we will have a good team on the pitch on Friday to get to the next round.”

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