CAPPIELOW -- A ponderous attacking display was slightly redeemed by an improved defensive performance and mental fortitude. When in possession, Rangers were lifeless, lethargic and wasteful with the ball; several players were guilty of giving the ball away. The 'germanic' flavour to the Morton defensive set-up posed problems, and a willingness to break with numbers could have had its rewards. The game turned on its head following a farcical red-card for an 'over-enthusiastic' celebration. The subsequent game was in complete contrast to the usual Rangers game, where they finally got to show what they could do on a counter-attack, creating several glorious opportunities.
Rangers ostensibly lined-up in their usual 4-3-3. Holt missed out through injury, with Law coming in to join Zelalem and Halliday in central midfield. A back four of Tavernier, Wilson, Kiernan and Wallace played in front of Foderingham in goal. McKay, Miller and Waghorn made up the front three.
Morton, who had won just one of their three games since the 2-2 draw at Ibrox in December, had to overlook on-loan Ranger Luca Gasparotto for the game; O'Ware dropped into the vacant centre-back position, with Bobby Barr stepping in to a 4-4-2 come 4-5-1 formation.
Morton pressed with a front two when Foderingham or the Rangers centre-backs had the ball, potentially causing problems. Rangers' first phase circumnavigated the press successfully by splitting the centre-backs and dropping Halliday deep to make a makeshift back-three, which allowed the ball to be played around.
From there the Rangers passing only deteriorated: several players were guilty of gifting the ball to Morton. Generally, this was Rangers' own fault, with a lethargic start to the game and sheer complacency in the pass, but Morton must be given credit for the 'Germanic' style of their defensive block.
The Morton second-striker often dropped deep to make a 4-5-1 when the first press was unsuccessful. Instead of staying compact, with the wide midfielders tucking in, they adopted a Borussia Monchengladback-style defense, whereby the wide players stay wide, to cut off the easy pass wide -- a common occurrence when a team needs to switch play. Morton's midfield three then shuttled across to the ball side. As a result, Rangers struggled to to play the pass wide, which is generally their first move to get the wingers and full-backs in the game. Tavernier and Wallace were forced deeper to get the ball, which left Waghorn and McKay isolated.
Theoretically, the space is then in the inside channels, as the wide players stretch the pitch to cover the flanks. Rangers could never move the ball quickly enough to expose this space (Holt would have been ideal with his positional awareness). The Rangers central three were too narrow also, adopting a 2-1 shape, with Zelalem at the tip and Law dropping deeper beside Halliday. With the wide pass cut off, the ball was forced centrally into a congested area. Even the long diagonal was restricted as the full-back tracked McKay closely.
Morton were keen to attack with numbers on the break, but a combination of adequate defending and poor passing meant Rangers dealt with everything. Kiernan has improved visibly of late: his distribution was always decent, but his defensive ability left a lot to be desired. He has started to track his man more, instead of getting drawn into space. He was quick to cut out forward passes from the Morton midfield, stopping attacks dead. He's still too eager to make a challenge, when staying on his feet would be better.
Generally, the possession was good at 60-70%, but it was safe passes across the back line. Eventually, the ball was moved a little quicker and Zelelam and Miller started to find the space in the channels which allowed a few attacks to develop; Miller missing a guilt-edged chance. The goal was fortunate, but Halliday did well to find that yard of space in the inside-channel by moving the ball quickly. His shot deflected into the path of Miller, who out-muscled his defender to poke it home.
Rangers never built on this at the start of the second-half, returning to the slow, lethargic play in the early stages of the game. Morton in contrast pressed harder, and were more confident. This forced a change from Warburton: switching to a 4-2-3-1, with Forrester coming on for Zelalem -- who had a decent game, but was wasteful like everyone else -- to take a wide-left role and Shiels, dropping into a holding-role alongside Halliday, coming on for Law. McKay moved into the No. 10 position.
Morton continued to press, however, and despite dealing with attacks adequately enough, they did look like scoring. The double-pivot acted as a half-decent shield, forcing Morton wide and into attempting long-range shots. This allowed Rangers to counter: something we've had to defend against consistently but never really had opportunity to do ourselves.
And this they did with good movement and speed. A well organised, three-pronged counter, with Waghorn and Forrester stretching the play and the ball carrier (usually McKay) driving into the central area, created the opportunity for the pass wide or a shot from the middle. The second goal came from this counter, with McKay playing a one-two with Miller (a goal and an assist, but still some think he's useless!), before clipping the ball into the top corner.
Halliday was red-carded in farcical manner for celebrating a little too enthusiastically. In retribution for the way Morton celebrated at Ibrox after getting a point, Halliday raised his fist to the Morton end before turning to bask in the euphoria of the Rangers support. This all happened in the middle of the pitch: hardly provocative behaviour. It was certainly nothing like James McClean for West Brom, goading the Sunderland fans from five yards away!
Ball came on for Miller, and slotted into the holding role alongside Shiels and McKay to make a three-man defensive block. Waghorn and Forrester played wide, tracking back when needed, but always trying to press. Forrester was hard-working but still looks off the pace. The game followed the same pattern, as Morton pressed for a goal and Rangers sat back to counter. The cool head of Shiels was important to keep possession at times, draw fouls and create a couple of chances. His work-rate was brilliant, along with McKay, Forrester and Waghorn. The four were instrumental in creating several glorious goal-scoring opportunities. It shows what Rangers can do when there is space.
Wilson, as usual, was calm and composed (although wasteful at times), winning back the ball a couple of times. One wants the calmness and composure, but he's often too calm, and not quick enough to cut things out.
It was a slow and technically deficient game from Rangers; slow and lethargic for most of it. Morton deserve credit for their ingenious defending, and their willingness to press for a goal with the man advantage. The pleasing aspect was the clean-sheet, and the mental fortitude to see us hold on -- and continue to create several chances -- in the face of outrageous refereeing decisions. It's a learning curve with these players, and they're certainly growing in stature. It's not what you do when your playing well, but what you do when you're playing badly: it's the scrappy 1-0's (or 2-0) that wins titles.
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