The problem with Scottish football is that all too often a hard-working team can beat a team trying to play football. Nowhere else in the world would a hard-working side be able to beat a side of a much higher tactical ability. The reason for this is a lack of quality in the execution. Rangers were comfortable and dominant for large spells of the game against Falkirk, but were again let down by a severe lack of quality in playing the final ball, or taking a shot.
Rangers lined-up in their usual 4-3-3. Three changes from the disappointing 2-2 draw with Morton saw Miller, Zelalem and Ball drop out for Oduwa, Shiels and Wilson. Ball and Kiernan took the majority of the blame for the draw, with the space between the pair far too inviting for breaking players; Wilson, despite not being quick, reads the game well and is calm on the ball. Zelalem missed out through injury, so a chance for Shiels who had made a decent impact coming on late in games. Presumably, Oduwa was brought in to provide width.
Falkirk were lined-up in their usual 4-4-1-1. The team has been unchanged for several weeks, apart from 17-year-old O'Hara swapping from match-to-match with McHugh; O'Hara got the nod against Rangers. Falkirk are a direct team, possessing creativity out wide in the form of Sibbald and Alston. They create numerous chances without ever having more than 55% possession. Their 'keeper has often had to make several saves per game. Falkirk go into the game in buoyant mood, having been unfortunate to concede a late equiliser against Hibs last weekend.
The pattern of the match was pretty much set within the first 5 minutes: Rangers dominating possession; Falkirk sitting deep and breaking at pace. In the third minute, Halliday is caught in possession high up the pitch, and Falkirk break with several players getting in behind the Rangers midfield. Vaulks, making a run from central to left, dragged Wilson out-of-position, forcing a wild lunge from the returning centre-back. The referee pointed to the spot, despite the initial challenge being several yards outside the box. 1-0.
Rangers burst into life after going behind, forcing Falkirk back, and spraying passes about; Wallace, McKay, Shiels and Holt were effective in creating triangles in recycling possession. The majority of the forward passes were central, into the feet of Shiels, Holt and Waghorn, before being forced back; Waghorn in particular was outnumbered any time he received the ball, always with back to goal.
Falkirk were content to sit deep and hit the long pass. Their second-striker, O'Hara, spun wide on several occasions into the vacated full-back spaces to receive the ball, before running into the space and forcing our full-backs to cover. O'Hara and Baird's pace was a danger-sign. This move almost reaped rewards later, but a goal was chopped-off for offside.
The triangles continued, but the objective seemed to shift from a central focus to a flanking focus. When the ball came to McKay, he started to take on his full-back on the outside; Oduwa also took on his defender, with both wingers stretching the play by hugging the touchline. This aggressive wing-play was where the equiliser came from. Halliday taking a chance from distance, before the ball gets deflected wide to Oduwa in space. Oduwa then centres the ball, before it falls to McKay at the back post via a deflection or two. McKay slotted it into the far corner first-time. 1-1.
The game went through a heated few minutes, with jeers from the crowd after every tackle and decision. Commentators suggested that Referee "Willie Collum [was] part of the narrative." Should a referee be part of the narrative of the game, or simply a silent director? Collum made several wrong decisions - most tellingly the decision to award a penalty which was several yards outside the box. Not too encouraging considering this is the man chosen to referee at the European Championships...
Falkirk seemed to retreat into themselves a little, becoming unsure in their attacking play. Conceding the congested central ground, Rangers continued to target the flanks. One tactic that looked promising was the Wallace 'under-lap'. Everton's Baines was unplayable when knocking the ball to his winger and making a run inside the full-back; the full-back and covering midfielder were unsure what to do. Wallace made several of these runs, allowing Rangers to get in behind. More quality on the through-ball would have caused a lot of problems for Falkirk.
Oduwa had a good first-half: linking well with his inside midfielder and taking on his defender. Unfortunately, Tavernier never supported him enough. It seemed Tavernier was told to sit back, perhaps to cover the dangerous Sibbald? Wallace in contrast bombed forward all game.
The second-half saw a much more direct approach from Rangers, by trying to play over the congested midfield. Wilson and Kiernan played several exquisite long diagonal balls to the wingers; and on a couple of occasions, Waghorn. Space seemed to open up, but again the final-ball was a let down. Then came the wind.
Falkirk took the lead, doing what Rangers couldn't: drill a corner into the box, and not allowing the wind to catch higher balls. Unable to deal with the first-ball, a lay-off was drilled into the far corner. 2-1.
Rangers went through a really shaky 15 minutes, where confidence evaporated. Falkirk didn't even bother to play long passes, but simply lumped aimless balls forward; the wind catching the ball from going through to the safety of Foderingham's arms. Again, their second-striker spun into the space. A bit of quality on the final pass could have seen them score more. Even so, they hit the post and Foderingham made a couple of sublime saves. Kiernan looked lost, unable to deal with the movement of Baird and O'Hara, with much of the trouble self-inflicted by trying to force forward passes and conceding possession.
Law and Miller came on to replace Shiels and Oduwa, and seemed to show promise. Law in particular changed the game by running with the ball, playing it wide quickly and hitting the bar with a controlled shot.
The changes galvanised the team. The tempo increased, balls were played wide more quickly. Individual skill and incisive passing saw Rangers get in behind several times. The final-ball was a let-down, or the Falkirk pulled off a good save. A few long shots looked to be nestling in the net, until the hands of Rodgers deflects the ball to safety.
A final change saw Clark come on for Wilson, as Rangers continued to bang at the door. At this stage, any structure or formation goes out the window, with Rangers playing what seemed like a 3-3-4 at times. A penalty was awarded late on - retribution for the one wrongly given in the first five minutes - but Waghorn, frustrated all game, saw his strike saved, as the last hope was snuffed out.
Overlooking the ten minutes where confidence disappeared and where any aimless ball was a serious danger, Rangers were the dominant side: tactical superior, recycling possession with relative ease and creating a barrow-load of chances. Again, a severe lack of quality on the final-ball sees Rangers leave with nothing; again, the hard-working team has got the points. Nowhere else in the world is a hard-working side able to beat a side of a much higher tactical ability. It's Scottish football in microcosm: work-ethic over tactical ability. A good work-ethic is a great asset, but it shouldn't be the main tactic. Until Scottish football changes in this regard, it'll continue to be a laughing-stock on the world-stage.
From Rangers' point-of-view, more quality is needed. The current level is not always enough to beat a hard-working side, despite the tactical superiority. Winning the Championship title was almost guaranteed during the euphoria and excitement of our early season form. Now, it's not quite so certain. The only positive is it's still early in Warburton's reign, with another few windows before we really see the team he's looking to develop.
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