Seven from 83. That’s the goalscoring record this season of the four supporting midfielders Rangers started against St Johnstone. Barrie McKay, Jason Holt, Josh Windass, James Tavernier. Seven goals from 83 games in league and cup. It’s a huge problem with Mark Warburton’s side at the moment. They are relying too much on midfielders to chip in with more than their fair share and it just isn’t happening.
Joe Garner gets a lot of flak for his own goalscoring record, which he should. Regardless of how you paint it, three goals in 17 games is not an acceptable return. However, his job, as is the job of any striker in the Rangers team right now, takes him outside of the area and away from where he can do the most damage in terms of goalscoring.
Against St Johnstone, Rangers took the unusual approach (under Warburton’s tenure) of going with a two-man strike-force in Garner and Kenny Miller. Though this may have been how they lined-up on paper, in practice it was very different. Each of the pair would split out wide and drop deep. This was effective in the early stages when St Johnstone, in their usual 4-4-2, just couldn’t get to grips with the movement of Rangers, who were enjoying a lot of space in between the lines.
Then Tommy Wright made a tactical alteration. He changed to a 3-4-1-2. It was similar to Rangers’ set-up, with one alteration: Blair Alston was positioned as a No.10 almost alongside the two strikers, while Rangers used Windass (one goal in 13, none in the league) and Holt (one goal in 18, none in the league) as supporting No.8s in their system.
Alston was tasked with shutting down Andy Halliday. It was a job he, and then David Wotherspoon in the second half, both did effectively. Halliday does like to get forward from deep (ironically, the sitting midfielder had the best scoring rate of any Rangers midfielder in the starting XI - five goals in 27 this season, three in the league) but he was pretty much nullified from the 20th minute onward.
Contrary to popular belief, Wright made the tactical change prior to the opening goal, scored by McKay (taking his tally to three goals in 25, two in the league). Wotherspoon, who operated at right wing-back until his defensive frailties convinced Tommy Wright into making a substitution just before the half, got caught too high up the pitch on a counter-attack. With Ricky Foster switched to the other side as part of the newly assembled back three, McKay had the space to charge down the flank, feed in Garner and then finish when the striker’s rebound came back to him.
Once Wright moved things around and put Foster on McKay, the two sides cancelled each other out. The closest Rangers ever looked to scoring was when Windass linked with the strikers and burst into the box twice in the second period, winning a corner and having a cross fly past the far post.
And therein lies the problem. Miller and Garner both played, but they were acting more like facilitators than strikers. That’s all well and good when you have supporting players capable of bagging around 10 goals over the course of a season. But the indications are that Rangers don’t have anyone in the squad capable of doing that, or at least anyone Warburton trusts in the starting XI. If Tavernier (two goals in 23 games, one in the league) regain the confidence he had in front of goal last season then it will help ease the problem, but they’ll still need to look at recruiting in January.
Second is well within their grasp regardless of what they do. But to show significant progress and hope of getting closer to Celtic next season, they’ll need to add a couple of midfielders who can score goals regularly or a striker who can do the facilitating while also chipping in more than his fair share. Or, ideally, both.
Unfortunately for the Ibrox club, they can’t do any of this before Saturday.