It's safe to say that last week's Ladbrokes Premiership curtain-raiser at Ibrox wasn't a particularly good day for Rangers. Not only did we concede the opening goal of the new season, we failed to take all three points and key striker Martyn Waghorn pulled up with a hamstring tear late in the game. We won't mention Joey Barton being nutmegged as well!
All this means tomorrow's match away to Dundee becomes even more important. Yes, seasons aren't won or lost this early in the campaign but we do need to build up momentum to ensure any challenge we do make has a solid foundation. As such, a win is vital if we're to maintain confidence amongst the support especially.
In last week's game we started fine but as the match went on, we conceded too much ground to Hamilton's midfield and struggled to match them physically. Sure, their foul/booking count shows they didn't always use legal means to apply pressure but all too often we were bullied out of good positions and didn't really threaten their new goalkeeper enough. As the manager said after the game, dominating the ball is all well and good but if you don't take and/or create chances, it's a waste of time.
With that in mind it was those tasked with the creative side that struggled. Kranjcar, Halliday and Barton didn't work together well and our midfield lacked pace and mobility during key moments. Similarly, McKay and Wallace looked off-colour on the left flank (particularly after half-time) and the service into the likes of Miller and Waghorn wasn't good enough on the whole. Indeed, it wasn't until after the hour mark that the introduction of Forrester, Rossiter and O'Halloran provided the spark for us to get back into the game. Moreover, being down to ten men for the last 10-15 minutes after Waghorn's injury perhaps cost us the full three points as Hamilton never really looked like making the most of the extra man as we continued to apply pressure.
This change in momentum after the substitutions - along with a more effective attacking display in the 5-0 win over Peterhead - means one can expect the players above to start tomorrow lunch-time. Injury and illness may affect the rest of the team selection but hopefully the majority of the squad (barring Waghorn, Windass and Crooks) will all be available for the visit to Dens Park.
Of course we routed Paul Hartley's men in the Scottish Cup last season and although the 'Dee manager has lost the services of Kane Hemmings and, Greg Stewart, another 4-0 win is unlikely tomorrow. We can certainly expect another tough, physical match and we cannot under-estimate our opponents.
Starting in defence, I'd expect a more familiar back five than has played in the last two games with Wilson set to replace Hill and Wallace back in for Hodson. Wes Foderingham remains first choice in goal even if Gilks has looked equally capable in the games he's played. All five will need to be alive to the hard work and threat of Rory Loy in particular who always plays well against his former club. Suffice to say, if we don't defend well, we will be punished.
Into midfield and I'd expect Barton and the very impressive Jordan Rossiter to start tomorrow. It's then a straight choice between Kranjcar, Halliday, Holt and Forrester for the more attacking role and, given his performance last weekend, perhaps the latter will be given the nod. Forrester can also play wider though so may well be preferred in the front three to allow more game-time for Niko Kranjcar.
Our attacking options are also varied. Joe Dodoo led the line extremely well against Peterhead on Tuesday and his combination of strength, pace and finishing makes him an exciting talent. Certainly he offered more than Kenny Miller did last Saturday (despite some poor service analysed here) so it would be a surprise not to see the former Leicester City man start. Either side of him we can perm any two from McKay, O'Halloran, Forrester and Miller. McKay struggled against Hamilton and was rested for Tuesday's cup game but I'd expect him back in the team tomorrow. On the right, O'Halloran has looked very bright (if still lacking in composure/vision at times) so he may well have forced himself into the side as well.
MW: We need one more up front and one more at the back. We are working hard behind the scenes to get deals done.— Rangers FC (@RangersFC) August 11, 2016
To conclude, once again we clearly have lots of options but that may not be as immediately agreeable as you'd first think. In fact, it could be argued it's this depth and rotation of personnel that is affecting our fluency early in the season. As such, despite being quoted as wanting a two further players and not having a first choice XI per se, I'd still suggest Mark Warburton will need to find a set of players he can rely on from week-to-week. Of course form, injuries and suspensions will affect his thoughts from time to time but every team needs a nucleus of players that can drive their side forward. We certainly need that tomorrow and I can't wait to see it...!
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