After watching his side concede twice in the space of three minutes at Rugby Park, turning a 1-0 advantage into a 2-1 deficit, Graeme Murty looked along his bench for a capable matchwinner to spark the team back into life and rescue something from the game. Having pored over his limited options, he was forced to plump for Eduardo Herrera, a striker who’s not found form since signing in the summer and, indeed, hasn’t scored since September.
The substitution did not have the desired effect.
The January window can’t come soon enough for the Rangers boss, who was given the job until the end of the season on the day prior to Saturday’s defeat. Not only will he be able to strengthen in the transfer market, there’s also the possibility of bringing back some of the players currently on loan at other clubs, thereby adding some much-needed depth to his squad.
Michael O’Halloran will return from his loan at St Johnstone while Joe Dodoo sees his temporary deal with Charlton Athletic expire on 1 January. Rangers’ director of football Mark Allen is “exploring all options” with regards to the season-long loans which saw Harry Forrester and Andy Halliday leave the club for AFC Wimbledon and Gabala in Azerbaijan respectively.
Then there’s the return of Lee Wallace after a long-term groin injury. The captain hasn’t played since Rangers drew with Partick Thistle in September but could slot back into the left-back position for the trip to Celtic Park on Saturday if the manager is satisfied with the captain’s fitness.
“We’re assessing him day by day. His numbers are looking good. The stuff he’s completing is looking good. We just need to make sure he’s ready to go,” said Murty. “As I made sure with Bruno [Alves] against Kilmarnock, we have to make sure we’ve got a fully fit squad and we don’t injure the players.”
Before January, and even before the clash with Celtic, there’s the visit of Motherwell to Ibrox tomorrow evening. It’s the first meeting between the sides since the Betfred Cup semi-final where Louis Moult scored twice in a 2-1 victory for the Steelmen. Stephen Robinson’s side lived up to their moniker with some robust challenges, including an aerial tussle between Ryan Bowman and Fabio Cardoso which left the latter with a broken nose and enraged Murty’s predecessor Pedro Caixinha.
Though Moult will be unable to repeat his own brand of punishment on the Rangers defence, as the striker sits out through injury before his move to Preston North End in January, the visitors are expected to pose the same physical test. Having lamented the team’s inability to consistently deal with one of the basic aspects of football against Kilmarnock, Murty knows they have to improve on that front and do so quickly.
“You have to be able to stand up and deal with whatever the opposition throw at you, and then we can go and play our stuff,” the Rangers manager said. “We stood up to it at times [against Kilmarnock], but ‘at times’ isn’t enough. As a defender, you have to do it every time. The frustrating thing for me wasn’t that we can’t do it, it just appears that we can’t do it consistently.
“I think we need to respect our opponents and know what they’re going to do, and then try to impose our style on it. I thought for a lot of the that game [the semi-final] we did stand up to it fairly well, and passed the ball OK. When we do that, we look OK, and that gives me confidence. Then we don’t quite do it and the variation between our good stuff and our bad stuff is quite big. When that happens we look vulnerable.”
Vulnerable is quite an apt word to describe Rangers at the moment. Though it’s of their own making, criticism is coming from all angles and the team did not respond in the manner their supporters would have hoped during the trip to Ayrshire. While there are numerous questions which will continue to be asked of the board, and Dave King’s ability to lead the club forward, everyone in football knows that the best way to dampen off-the-field condemnation is to perform on it.
“I can’t afford to look outwith what I’m looking at. People are going to judge me and say whatever they like to say about me and the club,” added Murty.
“If we want that perception to change then we need to do it through actions. I can stand here and talk all day about what I want to do and what happened, but the guys need to go out on the pitch and execute at a high level.”