Jekyll and Hyde
What to make of Rangers? It’s difficult. No team has a better record away from home in the Scottish Premiership. However, a look at their home form and they sit sixth in the league. They are capable of playing attacking and incisive football but within the same game they can simply capitulate, looking dishevelled and disorganised.
The match at Fir Park was a microcosm. In first 45 minutes they were played off the park and allowed themselves to be bullied easily. Two experienced centre backs in Russell Martin and Bruno Alves were the worst players on the park. A duo who have more than 1,000 clubs appearances between them, plus 124 international caps, were all over the shop. Alves was too concerned with letting everyone know what he thought about his ‘treatment’ from Curtis Main and Ryan Bowman, while Martin seemed to forget that he too could use his body.
Graham Dorrans, thrown in after a long spell on the sidelines, was off the pace and spent much of the first half, alongside Greg Docherty ball watching. Not helped by Josh Windass, as Well outnumbered Rangers in midfield.
There’s been moments where you think Rangers are on the cusp of making that next bit of progress, of taking a big step forwards to realistically challenging Celtic. But too often they show their weakness(es).
They showed in the second half they can play. When they are able to swarm forward and set up camp in the opposition half Murty’s men are a thrilling watch. But until they harden their soft centre they will continue to have their noses pressed up against the window, looking at their Glasgow rivals.
• READ MORE: Motherwell 2 - 2 Rangers: How the players rated
It wasn’t a happy New Year for Well fans. Rather than celebrate new beginnings, they were left in a period of mourning. Their hero, their talisman, their Louis Moult had moved on. Fifty goals in 98 matches is not easy to replace, especially for a team of the stature of Motherwell, with all due respect of course.
Coming in to replace him was a player who had scored 20 goals since the start of the 2014/2015 season. Curtis Main was most recently at Portsmouth where he was noted for his endeavour but inability to find the back of the net.
Now? It is very much the case of there being a new sheriff in town. Well fans took to Main straight away. Ever since his debut in a Scottish Cup win over Hamilton Academical where he provided an assist he has built a reputation as a highly effective and bruising forward, but one which can play.
He has kicked himself for missing chances but has still bagged six goals in 13 games. However, what he brings is much more than goals. He embodies Motherwell. The team are intense, aggressive, hard-working and they look to engage with their front men early on. It is understandable when you have players like Allan Campbaell and Chris Cadden who look to join in from midfield and you have Ryan Bowman and Main who unnerve defenders and bring team-mates into play.
Main was superb against Celtic. He helped create the penalty by being the focal point, chesting the ball into the path of Bowman before scoring the spot-kick. The second goal, which he assisted for Campbell, was incredible. He shrugged off the experienced Russell Martin as if he was a toddler climbing on his back before bodying, fairly, James Tavernier. It was followed by good awareness and a composed pass.
The Englishman is the perfect target man. He uses his body and his strength well and is a tall striker who actually jumps for the ball. As mentioned he has a technique and football brain to go with it. His performance deserved a second goal which he almost scored with a curling effort off the bar.
Two Rangers players, more than any, stepped up in the second half at Fir park. Jamie Murphy and Alfredo Morelos. The former scored the equaliser while the latter was a huge presence as a focal point.
Murphy took a few outings to get up to speed after moving on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion but has arguably been the club’s most influential player in the last month or so. Playing from the wing, he offers pace, directness, plus both a creative and goal threat. He was given too much and too much respect by Motherwell for his goal but it was a splendid finish.
Josh Windass should look at Murphy for inspiration. Not only does he have that quality going forward but when the ball is lost he works back. In the second half he tracked Richard Tait winning the ball before getting on the front foot. He is a perfectly diligent two-way player.
As for Morelos, he is unjustly criticised by too many. Whether that be columnists, pundits or fans. It is, to put it bluntly, nonsensical. This is a very talented young striker who adapted to Scottish football excellently. He is still agitated by some aspects as witnessed at Fir Park where his anger brought about a booking.
He channelled it in the second and began to win his battles, especially against Tom Aldred. His play outside the box was, at times, fantastic. Winning the ball, allowing Rangers to move upfield, playing in team-mates, playing as a facilitator. He is the league’s second top scorer but if there is one facet he needs to improve, it’s being more clinical.
Yet, going forward towards next season Rangers have two attackers they need to build their team around. They need to get the Murphy deal over the line and try to hold onto their Colombian.
If Motherwell had netted a third in the first half they would have deserved it. They truly battered Rangers who simply didn’t stand up to the fight and were in danger of being suffocated such was the intensity at which Motherwell played. The half-time whistle was a blessing for Rangers but it acted as a signal for Motherwell to stop and they struggled to get going again.
Both managers mentioned Motherwell’s intensity and tempo in their post-match interviews. Graeme Murty noted that he told his Rangers players what to expect from the start of the match, while Stephen Robinson lamented his players not reaching the same levels after the interval, refusing to blame Nick Walsh for a wrong penalty decision against Elliott Frear.
When Motherwell do find their rhythm they are great to watch. Their football is not for everyone, accused of being bullies and thugs. They’re not, but they play on the edge. Their pace, their attitude, their desire to move the ball forward has to be respected. They have an identity in keeping with Scottish football. It’s one which the national team could take lessons from.
However the Steelmen struggle to keep it up for a 60-plus minutes, let alone 90 minutes. Teams have to be wary of the fight and match Motherwell’s desire. Do that and they will get a chance to play.
Scottish football at its best
You have to wonder if Joey Barton tuned into BT Sport to see his old team take on Motherwell. No doubt he would have been reading Aristotle, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel or Arthur Schopenhauer. Or maybe watching Crystal Palace v Liverpool. You can only feel sorry for the poor schmucks who did opt for the Premier League fixture rather than Rangers v Motherwell.
Once again Scottish football enthralled. Two teams with contrasting ambitions, contrasting styles, went hell for leather at Fir Park. It was fast and physical. There was some great moments of individual skill or collective team play which was contrasted by poor refereeing and even worse defending.
When turning up to a football match or turning it on, you want to be entertained. Scottish football has its foibles. Yes, there are players who appear to have won a competition to be involved at this level. There are referees who seem to be in on some big prank on all Scottish football fans. A couple of teams wouldn’t be welcome in the back garden. And let’s not start on some off-field decisions. But, largely, Scottish football is fun. It’s intense and ferocious. It’s a ding-dong.
It’s Motherwell v Rangers.