Joe Garner may not have hit the ground running at Rangers but there is no doubt he is now gathering significant momentum to earn the approval and appreciation of the club’s support.
The 28-year-old striker, by some way the most expensive recruit so far of Mark Warburton’s tenure as Rangers manager, received a standing ovation from the home fans when he was substituted in the late stages of last Saturday’s 2-0 win over Hearts at Ibrox.
Garner did not add to a goal return which now stands at just three in 15 appearances since his £1.8 million move from Preston in August, but he is steadily providing evidence of the value Warburton believed he would add to his team in the Premiership.
A ferociously committed approach, with persistent harassment of defenders and an aerial ability which belies his stature, Garner possesses some qualities reminiscent of former Scotland striker Andy Gray, who enjoyed a cameo season with Rangers at the end of his playing career in 1988-89.
“An Andy Gray type is probably a good analogy for Joe,” said Warburton. “You see the timing and technique of his leap is very strong. Joe is only 5’9” but he wins headers above 6’2” defenders and you see week on week that he’s improving.
“I haven’t heard an ovation like the one he got last Saturday in my 18 months here. He didn’t score, but, if you turned up in the 85th minute, you’d have thought he had scored a hat-trick from the reaction of the fans towards him.
“It shows you his workrate, desire and commitment and he chased every ball. In his first few games, we asked him to come short and link up and offer runners to go beyond him. It takes time for him to settle and we asked for people to give him a break and I think he’s now showing how good he can be.
“Two weeks ago I was told Joe Garner was a shocking buy and a waste of money. Now people are raving about his performances. It’s just two weeks later. People are very, very quick to judge players. The fact of the matter is the new boys are settling in and Joe is showing his value.”
Garner’s combative style inevitably attracts attention from referees and he has already collected four cautions as a Rangers player, something Warburton is aware could be an issue.
“Discipline is key for all of us,” added Warburton. “Joe has to be careful as we don’t want players to get a one-match ban. He plays a little on the edge and defenders know he plays that way. When I was at Brentford and he played against us for Preston, our defenders would come off the pitch and say what a ‘pain in the backside’ he was to play against – or words to that effect.
“Defenders were battered and bruised and said he was a handful. A couple of times they got their own back on him but he didn’t complain. He just dusted himself down and he’s a little old-fashioned in that respect. But he can play, his touch is good and he has an eye for goal. That’s why we went after Joe because we knew how good he can be.”
Rangers will bid to consolidate their grip of second place in the Premiership table when they face Hamilton Accies at the SuperSeal Stadium tomorrow night, looking to record three consecutive league wins for the first time this season.