Raith Rovers v Rangers - A Stark Warning

Match Analysis
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We all love Fridays don't we? The end of the working week for most people, a chance to put up our feet and perhaps have a wee drink. With the whole weekend ahead to enjoy; two days of R&R and for most Scottish men, we also get to follow/take part in the sports we love. What's not to like?

Unfortunately, for long-suffering Rangers fans at least, the meddling influence of pay TV stations means we're perhaps not as relaxed as other folk for what should be the least stressful day of the week. Indeed, tomorrow night's match will be the second of three successive tricky Friday night live games for our fans. Add in five Friday evening matches previous to this (including one postponement, two defeats and just the two early-season wins) then it's safe to say enjoyment won't be a byword for Rangers supporters for such games. Furthermore, given Raith Rovers just knocked us out of the Scottish Cup less than two weeks ago, confidence won't be exuding out of any bear ahead of this contest - even if one of those Friday night wins was arguably our best performance of the season away to the Kirkcaldy men all the way back in mid-September. That 4-0 win seems such a long time ago.

I guess there is some good news Although the record books will show a comfortable 0-2 Hibernian win at Ibrox last Friday, there were signs of improvement within the Rangers team. Yes, the same limitations were there (poor crossing, no cutting edge and lacklustre defending) but by our standards in 2015 at least, our display was a whole lot better, ironically perhaps in part due to some of those who've let us down being unavailable. It will certainly be a test of Kenny McDowall's leadership resolve to see if he reinstates the likes of Simonsen, Foster, McCulloch and Black for tomorrow's trip to Fife - all of whom have struggled this season.

Starting in defence then, while Lee Robinson didn't look overly convincing at the second Hibs goal last week, his overall performance did seem better than Simonsen's have been of late. The former Raith 'keeper will certainly consider himself unlucky if he's dropped. Similarly, in front of him, Faure and Žaliūkas looked less then match sharp at times but both deserve another opportunity to improve their contribution (and fitness). Given Foster and McCulloch's poor form, neither have any right to walk back into the team (if available). However, certain demands allegedly placed on the manager may mean a début for on-loan Newcastle defender Kevin Mbabu who can play centrally or on the right. Meanwhile on the left side, Lee Wallace has hardly impressed this term either but is fortunate to have no genuine challengers for his position. Perhaps that explains his poor attitude and application more than anything else? As vice-captain I expect a lot more from a senior player who is supposed to be an international quality full-back.

Moving into midfield and the Hibs match seen us opt for a five man unit with Hutton and Murdoch sitting deep, allowing Law, Miller and Vuckic to try and create an attacking threat in inter-changing offensive positions. For the most part this system seemed to work quite well - even if it was obvious that Murdoch was unsure of his role while an injury to Miller and a lack of match fitness for the on-loan Vuckic meant it wasn't quite as effective in terms of delivering goals. Nevertheless, Miller's availability aside, I'd be surprised if the caretaker manager changed anything tomorrow unless he prefers the width of someone like Aird, Gallagher or Templeton (if fit). The tight Stark's Park stadium makes this unlikely.

If we do stick with the five man midfield this will obviously mean only one place for our misfiring strikers. Quite incredibly, we have only a combined 15 league goals from our supposed five main forwards (Daly, Miller, Boyd, Clark and Shiels) which is a damning indictment on, not only the players, but the selection policy of the management team (new and old). Far too often we seem to chop and change our striker and attacking tactics - limiting the sharpness and confidence of players that requires such virtues. Thus, given he's our joint top scorer in attack and one of few players not out of contract this summer, then Nicky Clark must be our first choice for the rest of the season. Not only does he offer a goal threat but his work-rate is good, he has a bit of pace and youth is on his side. He must start tomorrow - irrespective of any injuries to others.

Such stark assessments are clearly required at Rangers. Not just in terms of team selection but throughout the club. Yes, the board and certain shareholders have rightly been the focus of protest, demonstration and removal but the unacceptable and overpaid efforts of the players and coaching staff should not be ignored ahead of important future decisions. I don't know many fans who will defend or vote for the incumbent board at next months EGM and it seems their time is (hopefully) coming to an end. By the same token, several player and management team contracts are also drawing to a close and it's unlikely many (if any) will be renewed ahead of next season. However, a crucial difference between the under-fire board members and these players is that the latter may have a chance to change our minds over the coming months. If they can improve their performances, show some leadership and take responsibility for the team's results then promotion should still be more than achievable. Who is capable of stepping up in that regard?

A battle for control of Rangers may well be happening off the pitch but players should still be winning their war on it. No more excuses.