Although fans are usually fairly interested in pre-season friendlies to check the progress of the team ahead of the new campaign, last night's fixture against Burnley was different for various other reasons - primarily the fact it was our only home friendly of the summer and, indeed, the only game fans could watch/attend while, of course, it was also the Ibrox début of the new management team with eight new players also playing their first game in Glasgow! This resulted in a decent crowd of over 22,000 fans while thousands more watched the game online via RangersTV.
Unfortunately, the final result wasn't what the watching fans were hoping for. On the face of it a 0-1 reverse at Ibrox is a disappointment but only the most negative of viewers would take that outcome alone from the game. In fact, for the first 30mins especially and for most of the last 20mins, Rangers were by far the better side and on another day would have scored several goals; not to mention being denied a stonewall penalty from referee Steven McLean in the opening period. Furthermore, while the performance was good per se, most Rangers fans will be equally enthused by the style of play. Long balls were kept to an absolute minimum and from goalkeeper Wes Foderingham out, every single player was expected to retain possession and build from the back. Conversely, when not on the ball, the rest of the team (outwith the striker and, interestingly, one of the wide-men) worked hard to defend in numbers. Indeed, other than some poor defending at the Burnley goal, we restricted the Championship side to very few chances and looked well organised for the bulk of the game.
Let's look at the positives and negatives of the game:
- Nearly every player showed up well with only one or two falling out of the game for short periods.
- Was particularly impressed with Tavernier, Halliday, Holt, Aird and Walsh.
- Excellent football at times; full of short triangles, width and exploitation of space.
- Every player had their own responsibilities and most delivered accordingly.
- We tried our best to play from the back at all times despite some very tight situations.
- Lots of hard work from the midfield as they not only supported the attack but covered defensively.
- A fair number of good openings and chances created. On another day we would have scored three or four goals.
- A very poor goal to lose direct from a goal-kick.
- After we conceded the goal, we lost our focus and shape for five to ten mins.
- We were perhaps over-elaborate in and around both boxes at times.
- Waghorn and Clark did OK as the lone striker in each half but were occasionally isolated and the lack of an alternative (e.g. a genuine target man) is a concern.
Despite the problems listed above, it was nevertheless pleasing to note the manager acknowledge these issues in his post-match interview whilst correctly pointing out the fact we're only midway through our pre-season schedule. However, while Mark Warburton clearly considers the Challenge and League Cup games over the next ten days as somewhat less important than the league kick-off proper in a fortnight, fans may be less understanding if we struggle against Hibs and/or Peterhead over the next two weeks. Most supporters will certainly appreciate it takes time to put together what is effectively a whole new team and style of play but Warburton will surely be as keen as the expectant fans to hit the ground running at Easter Road on Saturday lunch-time.
To that end, another two to three signings would be agreeable. Certainly the acquisition of Jason Holt will help in a creative sense and we seem to have enough depth defensively as well - even if Marius Zaliukas may be deemed surplus to requirements and moved on. Similarly, in midfield the manager used nine players last night and, if the inescapable Scott Allan rumours finally firm up, that gives us at least ten options there (though again you'd expect at least two players to be sold or sent on loan). This means, we are only really short on numbers in attack and, given our lack of goals last night and through last season, this issue is worth some specific comment.
Clearly the purchase of Martyn Waghorn will go some way to solving this conundrum and it's unfair to judge the player on 60mins in one friendly after just a day at the club. However, if we're being candid, his goalscoring history isn't great and our other options remain equally unproven and, well, unreliable. For example, Kenny Miller and Nicky Clark have shown up well in patches and will certainly work hard in every game but the fact remains they don't score enough goals and may not provide the physical presence such a lone striker role demands. This leaves Ryan Hardie who, despite being an exciting young talent, is also rather raw and lightweight to lead the line for a whole season. As such, signing another striker should be a priority and the rumours about Stevie May may well fit with the kind of player we need but even he has risks attached. Unfortunately, good strikers and goalscoring target men don't come cheaply so it remains to be seen if Warburton goes with what we have or looks to Dave King to provide a fair whack of our season ticket money to bring in a striker that will compliment his impressive work so far. Perhaps once the English sides submit their squads for the season, one or two quality targets may become available then?
All in all, last night's performance was a good one and there can't be many Rangers fans out there who won't have acknowledged the obvious improvement in our style of play. The new management team deserve credit for implementing this in such short order and it will be genuinely exciting to see this new squad develop over the coming weeks as last night showed we're close to putting a dangerous Rangers team on the park again for the first time in a long time. In that sense, the jigsaw is taking shape but we're still one or two pieces away from completing the puzzle. Let's hope that happens quickly...
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