Wednesday night at Ibrox was a complete nightmare. To the goal we lost, to the chances we missed, to the final result, to Celtic dropping points, to the traffic afterwards; what could go wrong, did go wrong and I have to admit it took me until this morning to update our main with the match highlights.
Then, for some reason, despite being unable to sleep after that result the other night, I decided to watch the bulk of the game, as sometimes it's worth doing so on TV as you can miss some stuff actually being there. At Ibrox, I thought we did OK up until Hamilton scored, then lost confidence as the crowd lost their patience. Yet, without playing well per se, we actually didn't do as bad as I thought later in the match and how we didn't score at least once in the 90mins was quite incredible.
Of course the reaction to the result has been that of outrage, quickly followed by resentment. And, given recent events and performances, that's understandable. Petty it might be but it's also easy to appreciate supporter indignation when under-fire players feel sorry for themselves in press interviews, whilst driving away from stadiums in six figure super cars. Quite simply complaining about struggling with the pressure won't wash with fans expectant of success - or at the very least a goal or two across two matches against the Premiership's bottom two teams.
Let's be honest; when players sign for Rangers, they should be made for life; most will earn thousands per week and the opportunity of millions over their career. The same can't be said for the lads Hamilton play. Often moving from club-to-club for the chance to impress for a small capped wage is more likely and when they do retire from the sport, they won't have pension investments and property portfolios to rely on. That's a pressure more in line with supporters, who often struggle to make ends meet following their club.
Nevertheless, we can't have it both ways. When Rangers were winning title after title or, in this era, erm, doing well in European games, we didn't ask what kind of car our captain was driving or how well paid they were. Nor did we complain about how much it cost us. Football is football and, as much as the money floating about - even at SPFL level - can be eye-watering and impossible to relate to for most of us, players deserve to be paid, even when they play badly. C'est la vie.
For Rangers fans, as much as we demand success, we also expect effort and application to be just as prevalent. Similarly, as much as we can forgive the occasional mistake, not learning from them must be one of our biggest frustrations. That's why James Tavernier and Connor Goldson have been the focus of so much scorn this week. Our captain and vice-captain respectively, both have sold the jerseys in our last two games and it really is impossible to explain their mindset. Was it over-confidence or a lack of ability? It can't be the latter as both have shown they are good players when focused so it has to be the former which is misplaced when the team is struggling so badly.
It's with merit then that supporters expect both to be dropped for our next game. After all, other players have suffered from such: be it Niko Katic, Ryan Kent, Glen Kamara or various others for their poor form. If the manager wants to retain the respect of those players and other fringe lads, who still can't get into what is now a losing team, then surely he can't favour player A over player B when they cost us points?
Unfortunately, football isn't quite as simple as that.
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First and foremost, whilst Ross County (a team who have never beaten us...yet) may not represent the kind of challenge that shouldn't allow us to 'rotate' our side and 'rest' a few struggling players - even key ones - we've all seen how much we've laboured against other clubs in the bottom half of the Premiership of late. More importantly though, it's the games following that one that are of more interest, being them against Bayer Leverkusen in the last 16 of the Europa League and those either side of the third Old Firm league match of the campaign. Any title aspirations may be all but gone and our chances of beating the Germans 50/50 at best but these are vital matches nonetheless and perhaps not the time for an erratic Jon Flanagan or the inexperience of Nathan Patterson at right back. And can we really rely on an untested partnership of Katic and Edmundson centrally?
Sure, someone like Patterson or a Matt Polster (if properly fit) should arguably be playing in Dingwall and why not test out a new centre-back pairing while we're at it? And don't forget to chuck in Halliday at left-back since Borna Barisic has reverted to his fickle form of last season. Furthermore, would a Jordan Jones or a Kai Kennedy scored our winner in Portugal? Are you more or less confident of European progression and another win over Celtic?
The fact is, as much as key players like Tav and Goldson have let us down badly (and I mean really badly) of late, I'm not quite ready to give up on them yet and I also don't feel offering up one or two scapegoats works either. It's like saying we can't play Morelos again for missing chances or that Kent will never pay back his inflated transfer fee. At 23, those two lads are still fairly young and still learning. They need our support, as difficult as that may seem when they spurn a chance or pass it out the park.
With all the above in mind then, how do we approach Sunday and the subsequent run of three very tough fixtures? Do we drop Goldson, Tav, Davis and the rest of the players letting us down? Or do we show our supposed insanity by sticking with those failing us? Well, it's my preview, and as much as I completely understand and share the calls for changes to the team, I'm disinclined to do so right now.
At the start of the year no-one could have seen this 2020 collapse coming (sic) but collapse it has. I won't pretend to know how so many key players have been so bad. And, for what it's worth, I don't think it was Dubai's training camp, a dressing room fall-out, a broken system or any other daft rumour. I believe it's just been the perfect storm of key player form, suspension and injury. Occam's razor, m'lud.
If we consider Tav, Barisic, Jack, Davis, Kent and Morelos to be our key players (and they are) then none have shown any sort of good form this year. That's also more than half our team. I'd fancy if Foster, Julien, McGregor, Brown, Christie, Forrest and Edouard stopped doing the business for Celtic, they'd also struggle. Only twice have our six key players played in the same starting XI this year and it's no coincidence we won both matches (v Hibs and Braga). However, that's not an excuse and that's where criticism of the manager comes in for not being able to adapt: either in terms of ensuring we have the squad able to cope and/or changing the system to suit.
Consequently, it's no surprise to see the manager's position being questioned as well. Criticism has been increasing - from his tactics to his (over)-reliance and protection of some players. How can younger lads like Katic be thrown under buses for costing goals whilst their supposed peers are excused for same? That puzzles fans and it's something the manager could do with explaining. As should his apparent inability to address his squad's keenness to prefer an underdog status at a club that has historically been the favourite.
Ultimately, there are more questions than answers for this Rangers team. For every win over Celtic, there's a loss to Hearts. For every European tactical master plan there's a struggle to deal with even the most basic of Scottish football presses. It seems for every step forward, there's the inevitable step back. But, surely, even after the events of Wednesday night we can't throw the baby out with the bathwater? And we certainly cannot afford another change of management and other 15+ player rebuild in the summer. Yes, it seems a cheap and increasingly irrelevant claim right now but we have made progress.
As a departure from the norm, I'm now going to post two possible teams for Sunday. OK, it's taking it to extremes a wee bit, but one will offer all the changes many fans seem desperate to see. The other will offer something that may seen even more silly and go against every emotion we felt leaving Glasgow the other night: in other words one or two enforced changes but effectively a defence for an XI that (all merited criticism aside) were actually a wee bit unlucky the other night and an XI we know are a good team capable of winning big games.
When you see the two XIs together, you'll soon realise it's not really a choice and, as much as I'm still raging with several players, I still believe good players don't turn wholly bad overnight and our team's form will only return by playing our best players and supporting them through bad times. That may go against the current mood but I don't see many credible alternatives. Be gentle, please!
Possible XI (a):
Possible XI (a):
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