“No excuses. Nowhere near good enough for our football club yesterday”. I greeted that tweet from Joey Barton with some degree of hope on Sunday morning. Will it prove to be hollow words in the grand scheme of this season? Well perhaps. But I’m prepared to give Mark Warburton the time and my support to sort it out.
What can be said of yesterday’s game? Well not a lot. Josh Windass had a credible performance in bursts; The defence had its all too familiar softness to it whether competing across the floor or in the air; The midfield lacked energy until the introduction of Andy Halliday and it can be said that energy lasted all of 15 second half minutes; Attack? It was ineffective at best – levelling no blame against Joe Garner having a largely thankless task of playing as a lone striker for much of the match.
I’ve seen many Rangers sides, more accomplished, experienced sides it must be said, struggle to get a result at Celtic Park and invariably on the end of a heavy defeat. However, most concerning thing about yesterday (and the same could be said of this season as a whole) has been our inability to go back to basics. A cliché football term perhaps, but it’s what gets winning sides through periods of poor form and it’s something we have yet to see from a Rangers team that is so clearly well drilled in possession football but unable to carry it onto the pitch for anymore than 20-30 minutes per game. Why have a side that enjoyed 63% possession against Celtic as recently as the Semi-Final in April turned into a side who appear to be alien to the concept of trying to keep the ball? It is fairly obvious last season our frailties lay in defence and a lack of physicality throughout the side but in trying to introduce aggression into the side Warburton appears to have lost the mobility and cohesion last season’s side were so good at producing on a weekly basis.
How does Warburton sort this? The most obvious answer is taking responsibility for our defensive duties. I do not yearn for a return to the pragmatism of Walter Smith, but covering that extra blade of grass, maintaining concentration and marking your man in the box are the minimum to be expected. I will admit to having lost a lot of faith in Kiernan and we must now give the opportunity to Wilson (when fit) and Senderos to form a partnership of some kind until the transfer window re-opens. Moving into midfield, the same could apply. We have seen many, too many for my liking, combinations in the midfield 3 not always by choice but sometimes enforced. Kranjcar simply must be regarded as a luxury player and if Barton is to play that deeper role in the 3 he must be surrounded by energy and composure. Rossiter, Holt, Halliday and Windass can provide that in abundance and Rossiter apart, they all have the ability to provide that valuable asset in football which is late goalscoring runs into the box. The one area of the side that does not concern me is attack. We have good options providing pace, power and guile and I would like to think after Garner’s showing yesterday, he can be relied upon more often than not to score some of those half chances we create.
A defeat to Celtic always hurts. A heavy defeat hurts more than most but I’d like to think it’ll be a watershed moment for this team. The wider support must stand back from the furore and finger pointing of yesterday to remind themselves of the constraints we are operating under and what is realistic to expect of this Rangers side for the season. I am not the type to make bold predictions but I can predict with confidence that Mark Warburton will come through this turbulent start to gather more positive results and performances without the need for a return to a more pragmatic style of play.
You can follow Neil Casey on Twitter via @brasstacks_
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