It's perhaps not quite one step forward, two steps back with Rangers at the moment but there's no doubt this Rangers team are as frustrating as any I've followed over the years. Quite clearly, we have a number of talented players and a manager who seems able to motivate them for bigger games but the same personnel are just as capable of regularly insipid performances and even the manager acknowledges he can't quite focus them for other matches? Why is this?
Rewind back a couple of months and we have a team that destroyed Celtic at Ibrox, giving our fans confidence and belief a title challenge could be made over the rest of the campaign. As we ended 2018, morale was as high as it's been for a while. Since then we've played five league matches: including beating Aberdeen in a fine display at Pittodrie but also dropping points in two other games, away at Kilmarnock and at home last Saturday to St Johnstone. It's safe to say that's not title-winning form and this continual inconsistency is difficult to explain.
Are the players not good enough? Perhaps it is as simple as that but we've seen some excellent performances from most individuals this season, not to mention some superb team achievements (not least in Europe) so that suggests we do have the quality but just lack a certain something to accompany it.
Is it belief? This is possible given the number of times we've come up against parked buses and seemed incapable of breaking such teams down, often visibly giving up the ghost well before the end of some matches. In contrast though, in various perceived bigger games, we've gone toe to toe with teams such as Celtic, Villarreal, Spartak and others, looking every inch as if we have the confidence to beat them and doing well many times this season.
What about general attitude and motivation? Earlier this week the manager talked about ego problems ahead of the St Johnstone game and questioned if that contributed to what was a very poor display from almost all his players. Right from the first whistle, we looked lazy, disinterested and didn't work hard enough to break down a stubborn Saints side. However, despite issues with tempo in some games, generally I'd argue we usually put in the effort so it's not just that either.
All things considered, I think the easiest answer/cop-out is that our problems are due to a combination of the above. Most teams have such faults and the manager's job is to correct them: signing and using the right players along with ensuring they have the right mental and physical traits to maximise results. I, for one, still don't doubt Steven Gerrard is the man for that job but, I also don't doubt that he's still learning how best to do this as an inexperienced manager himself.
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As such, I think the most positive conclusion to arrive at is Gerrard and his squad are still growing together and patience will be required from our fans, whilst they do so. Yes, we can't wait forever for a combination that may never arrive but neither can we keep changing the manager and/or making wholesale player changes every summer either. In essence, I believe pragmatism is our best foot forward for the moment and if the supporters can remain behind the team in this way, Gerrard will deliver in the longer term. Ask Manchester Utd fans if they were glad they stuck by Alex Ferguson for the first few years...?
That noble sentiment and hindsight aside, I still think this Rangers team are capable of a lot more and it would be good to see them demonstrate that this Sunday at Hamilton - themselves having just appointed a new manager and having actually beat St Johnstone at home just over two weeks ago. Nevertheless, we're just off the back of an excellent cup win over Kilmarnock so the players should be in fine fettle ahead of the short trip to Lanarkshire.
Of course, we're back on an artificial surface but that need not and should not be any sort of excuse, given we've beaten, not just Acas but Killie and Livi as well on their 4G pitches this season. Yes, they're not ideal and it may mean a couple of changes in personnel, but we should be more than capable of providing more quality than these teams, irrespective of grass. That's not the dismissive ego Gerrard spoke of either but a simple confidence in the squad we have.
The bad news is that we'll again be without Alfredo Morelos as he serves his final game of his suspension but the good news is that Allan McGregor should return after his own disciplinary absence. Both players will need to be more mindful of their obligations in this regard. Super-slo motion replays from dozens of angles and from unfriendly sources means gamesmanship is definitely more risk than reward for Rangers players. The loss of Morelos is a disappointing one but it's important we deal with this much better this Sunday. Will this mean a 4-4-2 with Defoe and Lafferty leading the line or a retention of our favoured 4-3-3 I'm not sure but, again, we should make either system work - as long as the players commit to and believe in their own ability.
With others such as Arfield, McCrorie, Jack, Goldson and Barisic all suffering from niggles lately, one or two further players may be rotated in but with four clean sheets in our last five games there's no coincidence that a settled defence is working rather better than constant change for change's sake. Because of this I'd be keen to retain as many of the same players from midweek as we can and look to them to supply the same determination, focus and quality to ensure another three points.
Patience is indeed a virtue but that need not excuse every bad result and there's no excuse for one this Sunday.
Possible team (4-3-3):
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