Away from the numbers

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Cheeky grin in the warm-up to a masked petted lip, slumped in the stand near full-time. Yet the pictures Sportscene used to tell us Alfredo Morelos is no longer one of us (BBC Scotland’s always so keen to help) perfectly mirrored the mood journey of every bluenose, Saturday tea-time, with every occasion Rangers went up-field from Minute 20 to Minute 93 of our trip to the Fountain of How The F**k Did He Miss That Stadium: A bouncily positive start reaping early rewards became simply knowing every attack would fail.

Kemar Roofe fluffed a point-blank header, Brandon Barker made the wrong decision every time he was clear through and while Kent and Barisic did stuff to the physical and emotional equilibrium of a youthful Accies side - stuff which should really be reported to the authorities - neither of them scored. And we know they can score now.

Yes, we won 2-0 and finished the game against ten men. Yes, we scored our goals before the game had really started. Hamilton had one real chance to score throughout and Rangers dominated the ball to such a degree that the Bears watching - either on Sky Sports or over a fence behind that big Sainsbury’s - became almost as frustrated as a skinny Scottish TV presenter trying to overshadow Rangers positive start to the season.

And when Ross McCrorie beat Hibs on Sunday we confirmed our place three points clear at the top of the league. And, in what is becoming a fitting tribute to Bobby Brown, the last living member and last line of the Iron Curtain defence, who we sadly lost this year, we’ve yet to lose a goal.

But whisper it. Don’t shout about this stuff. Let the mainstream media’s Morelos narrative dominate. Keep the doubts to the fore. The Premiership table’s barely a month old and we’re the team who cracks when favourites. Emphasise the negatives. Keep our players focussed and our enemies lazy.

Surely this is why Stevie G’s post-match analysis focussed on poor “numbers” – only two goals and assists – to take focus away from the good numbers; 16 points from the first 18 available.

The first key difference between Saturday and our last visit to plastic grass was the quality of the plastic itself. Livingston’s is soul-suckingly, calf-burstingly flat while Hamilton’s imparts palpable bounce. As a footballing, ball-on-the-deck kinda side – and as a group of men who want to retain their original kneecaps beyond age 35 - that suits Rangers.

But, if we’re going to throw in another caveat about Saturday’s win – and do so more lawfully than that Accies player who began rivalling Kirk Broadfoot in Florence for title of Most Foul Throws I’ve Ever Seen in a Professional Football Match - it’s that Brian Rice’s team, unlike Gary Holt’s, actually want to leave their own box. The latter are always playing within themselves because Livi’s remit is not to cross the half-way line. Hamilton, on the other hand, had an element of the caged animal about them on Saturday. They were trying to get out their own half – we just wouldn’t let them.

That was pleasing but also what’s expected. Accies are worse than Livi. Maybe that’s why Kemar Roofe was getting it from some Rangers Tweeters for not scoring. But the only reason we had the points sewn up within 20 minutes – our earliest two goals of the season so far - is because of a nerve-settling, chaos-wreaking, goal-presenting Roofe backwards header only bettered by Jared Borgetti’s immortal effort versus Italy in Ōita in 2002 (I might be exaggerating):

When he tires of torturing that poor Accies No.8, Borna lays it off to Stevie D, who puts a very non-Glen Kamara ball into the box and the Roofester knows only too well what to do with it. This is a man who sorts out his bearings very quickly, in-game and on arrival at a new club: Keeper stranded, ball off the bar - Ianis Hagi pounces to convert all the stramashing into a wee bit of net-thwacking, back-in-the-starting-XI vindication.

The only thing annoying me right now about Kemar, a Jamaican flag next to his name on Wikipedia but a St George’s Cross on Sky’s in-game graphics, is that him and Itten haven’t swapped nationalities, thereby allowing me to describe Roofe as our Swiss Army Knife striker. As evidenced by his effort off Killie’s post last week, and his Leeds United showreel on Sky pre-kick off on Saturday, he has all sorts of finishes in his armoury. He can score with every part of his head and both feet, from all sorts of distances and angles.

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So of course he then misses a spectacularly straight-forward headed chance in the second half. But everything else after the first two goals was just fitness and sharpness for the big man. He gives it everything and most of it works. Ryan Kent may have swept in a shot which the Accies keeper could only parry to the deadly feet of our captain, but Ryan Kent couldn’t score. Okay, it’s probably because he’s on a goal every second game right now and scored last week. But no-one lambasted our new talisman, the man Leeds want, for only providing one assist on Saturday. So when Kemar does the same, a week after netting his first goal in his first start for the club, I can’t slate the guy Leeds sold.

And Brandon Barker took a harder foul for the second yellow shown to the Hamilton captain than Kent did for the first. Brandon may have been the worst of our poor finishers in this game but he reduced the opposition numbers as effectively as he failed to increase ours. And, with apologies to his army of detractors, he offered himself for those missed chances and for the whole team more than our other big money offensive option, Hagi Junior.

We all hope his goal will help Ianis settle. But Saturday’s win came from rebounds and second balls and generally overwhelming an inferior opponent. Barker did more than some to maintain the collective tempo which produced this wee whirlwind.

Killing games early and playing within ourselves for the remainder is a sign of a league-winning side. But it’s only in retrospect we know this game was killed early. McLaughlin’s save on the line would have been just as spectacular at 3-0 up but a little bit less vital. It’s good to know our concentration doesn’t drop. I’m sure big Goldson had that wild, yellow card swipe at an Accies player before the half hour because he was desperately trying to avoid going rusty, such was Helander’s voracious dominance of anything that came past Davis and Jack.

Despite this creeping post-match positivity I have no problem maintaining negative focus during any game. Football’s often horrible poetry demanded Hamilton, the last team to score against us domestically, would be the next. When they brought Davi Moyo off the bench I thought it would be the same scorer too.

Overly superstitious? Well, the last time we played Hamilton with a clean sheet record in our sights I was stood in the East Enclosure, watching the old yellow-on-black stadium clocks with everyone else until we knew Chris Woods had gone more unbeaten consecutive minutes than any previous British goalkeeper. We cheered. We celebrated. Chris Woods waved to us. And then Adrian Sprott scored the only goal of the game, past Woods, to put us out the Scottish Cup.

Punters are always too negative or too positive though. This is why I love that the manager right now looks neither angry nor overly-chuffed. I caught his post-match Rangers TV interview on YouTube. It shows a man so relaxed he only folds down one side of the collar on his trench coat. Or is he only popping up one side? Who knows? Is he a wee bit warm or just a wee bit cold? He keeps us guessing like he kept Alfie guessing all day about whether he’d get on the pitch or not – then let him watch Greg Stewart come on instead.

Mr Gerrard praised the defence and mentioned the wee bit of revenge for what Accies did to us in March. But when he talks about how every Rangers front player in this game “should have had a number”- either a goal or an assist - is he referring to James Tavernier, who is a right-back but scored? Is he confirming Roofe had a great game coz he got an assist? Is he slating Ryan Jack for only hitting the post when in on the Accies goal despite being a defensive midfielder running large segments of the game?

Is Stevie G’s collar up because he knows it’s nearly 8pm and nearly September so things are going to get cold? Or is his collar half down because we’re top of the table, it’s an international break and, looking as urbanely chilled as Paul Weller in his Style Council phase, he’s slipping in a reference to the penultimate track on Side One of the Jam’s debut album? Who knows? He often tantalises as tortuously as his team.

Like a mod revival, there’s Red, White & Blue insignia slapped all over the green, not of a fishtail parka, but of the memory of Wim Jansen’s 1997-98 Celtic: You can’t 100% believe this is a side who’ll stop Ten In A Row, but the evidence mounts up on paper quicker than it does to our eyes, attuned as they are to our flashier title-winning teams of the past.

Not one of our attacks on Saturday failed. They all kept the ball at the right end of the pitch. They might not have added to our digits, but they kept Hamilton away from the numbers.

Celtic aren’t in full-on implode mode right now. But their manager has just retracted a public lambasting of players who have won every domestic trophy available during his reign. If we’re not quite ready to cruise off into the distance like Klopp’s Liverpool of last season, we can at least keep the heat on, position ourselves to take advantage of Parkhead fissures that could become chasms. Rangers don’t look spectacular. But we do look mechanically steady. And that’s how you take advantage of any rival crumbling.

We started the season telling ourselves we’d be delighted to win the next 37 league games with a dreary 1-0 like Pittodrie on August 1st. Now we’ve watched Rangers win each of our last two games 2-0 with an added slap of the woodwork. We haven’t played Celtic yet. We haven’t even met Hibs. But this pause to our season is just that – one weekend off; it ain’t no winter break nor Dubai training camp. There won’t be any laxity seeping in. We’re undeniably progressing and the small frustrations are keeping us edgy, like we need to be, for the next 32 Premiership matches.

Thirty two: Right now, that’s the number we’ve all got.

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