If we learned one thing from the last time Hearts gubbed us, we shouldn't overreact to the odd bad performance. After all, surely the players and manager (sound-bites or not) would learn from these and ensure such lack of commitment and bad tactical decisions wouldn't be seen again? Unfortunately, this wasn't the case last night at Tynecastle and Mark Warburton's players' inability to beat better sides away from home is far from a one-off - in fact it now appears a given that we'll lose such games.
Last night was almost a carbon copy of the November match. Hearts started on the front foot, we conceded an early goal and, one or two bright periods aside (particularly in the first half around the time we equalised) the men in maroon dominated whilst the vast majority of our team went onto hide in the second half. Worse - our manager had no answer yet again. Whilst the oft-criticised Ian Cathro rejigged his team in the wake of our strong first half finish, our team were making the same individual errors whilst losing all discipline and shape.
We couldn't control the ball, we gave it away continually, players were out of position, we looked a yard slower and our marking and decision-making were appalling. We then had the bizarre sight of our most dangerous two players being taken off - in Waghorn and Hyndman. Meanwhile the obviously ineffectual Toral and Halliday remained on the pitch and I pity any defender on the bench who will only get a game if someone gets injured. In that respect, the booing during these subs and at full-time from many away fans was understandable. No-one likes to hear such jeers but there's precious little other way to air one's frustration.
Thankfully the reaction from the manager has been a prompt one. He's apologised for the poor performance and tried to partly explain his tactical thinking. Clearly that shouldn't excuse anyone from last night's debacle but the first step to fixing a mistake is admitting it. In that respect I'm looking forward to a few personnel changes on Saturday at home to Ross County and the same kind of determined reaction we witnessed after the last Hearts defeat. Unfortunately, the biggest concern is even that may not be enough.
This leaves us and the board in somewhat of a quandary. Do we stick by a manager who quite clearly cannot win big games away from home? Or do we bring in someone else and who should that person be? And just how much money do we throw at the problem?
Option A is a risk. As much as Warburton talks a good game and there's no doubt when our team plays well it is a joy to watch, it doesn't happen often enough. There's a softness to his teams - our defence leaks silly goals, our midfield is often swatted aside physically and we don't score anywhere near enough goals our possession and chances usually merit. Similarly, as much as he talks about learning, we see the same mistakes time after time - not just from certain players who can no longer be trusted but the continual selection of said players and an obvious inability to replace them (either in situ or during various transfer windows).
In some ways I can sympathise with the manager. His budget is dwarfed by that of Celtic and that gulf is obvious on and off the pitch but our budget is also bigger than that of Hearts and Aberdeen - yet they continue to compete with us on the park. Yes, we're still in second place which has to be seen as job done to a degree but we need to see some progress - however tentative - and last night was several steps backward again after a good win last Saturday. To say the jury is out on Warburton is an understatement: as much he knew the budgetary limitations when he took the job, this is his squad and his staff and - to be frank - they're just not cutting it. Criticism is growing and that lack of faith is hugely dangerous for the well-being of the club.
Fortunately for the Englishman, keeping him is perhaps still better than the alternative. After all just who would we replace him with and who else would leave? I don't buy into the negative suggestions that our board would bring in a cheap option like McLeish, McInnes or McCall but neither am I convinced an appointment like the rumoured Frank de Boer would work either. The Dutchman had a fine playing career - including a short spell at Ibrox - and his work at Ajax as manager was initially superb winning four titles in a row but, latterly, his team started to struggle. He then lasted only 85 days in charge at Inter. Would he really want to come to Glasgow and work on a shoe-string budget? Moreover, given we're trying to change things in a positive sense throughout the club, would a change of manager be premature and unhelpful at this stage?
This takes us nicely to those in charge at Rangers and we all know the limitations on them as well. Outstanding legal and contractual problems with previous regimes (and, indeed, companies) means finance continues to be a challenge in running the club. Improvements in our accounts over the last year or so are encouraging and, whilst patience is required, I've no doubt the club will recover to retain past glories of old. But just how long will this take? And how do those in charge manage that progress fiscally to back the manager, obtain results on the park and deliver European group-stage football along with domestic success?
In that sense, there's not a whole lot of clarity. Failed AGM resolutions notwithstanding, investment seems restricted and, existing soft loans aside, nothing else seems apparent. Therefore, as much as some media criticism of Dave King et al often appears petty (or personal?) it's fair to say more and more fans are getting restless when it comes to the future of Rangers. I firmly believe the vast majority of supporters want to be patient and we certainly want to avoid creating new mountains of debt but it's difficult not to be frustrated. As such, it would be good to see the board be a bit more open with regard to their strategy, how they intend delivering investment and, hence, offer some comfort as to our ambitions. Perhaps Club1872 (remember them?) could request such?
All in all, I think many of the above criticisms come down to leadership. As much as we don't want to over-react to bad results and be overly critical of situations that are genuinely difficult, there seems to be a lack of people taking responsibility on and off the park at the moment. Last night our captain was posted missing, his fellow senior players too and their manager certainly seemed powerless as well. There also seems to be an information vacuum behind the scenes. Of course we don't want the minutiae of every board meeting - nor moonbeams either - but if we want to avoid the booing and jeering we seen last night we do need mature debate. That seems to be lacking and there has to be accountability throughout the running of the club. We cannot rest on our laurels.
With that in mind, Saturday afternoon will see Ibrox sold out yet again this season. Despite the laughable chants from Hearts fans last night, Rangers fans don't do walking away. Give or take a few thousand, our stadium will be full when Ross County visit and everyone present will be expecting a positive reaction on (and off) the pitch by 4.45pm on Saturday. That doesn't mean three points should cover up our obvious limitations but it will be one more step on the road to recovery. That road remains a long one though and it's vital we don't lose any fans along the way. But to avoid that someone has to step up and lead us forward.
Rangers is a club full of history and has a long list of legends. On Saturday we'll spend a minute's silence remembering the life of one such idol in Billy Simpson who was outstanding as a player in the early 1950s, delivering many trophies along the way. If that success is to be maintained who amongst us will be the next hero? And just how many in the boardroom, dressing room and stands are in it for the long haul?
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