If they say a week is a long time in football, then how do they measure six months? The last time we travelled to Dundee for a game of football, the sun was shining in mid-August and despite a disappointing draw in the SPFL curtain-raiser the week before, Rangers fans remained in high spirits ahead of our first away match at Dens Park.
This confidence was well-placed as the team arguably put in their best first half performance of the season against Paul Hartley's men. A fine early opener from Harry Forrester, followed up with a superb finish from Kenny Miller had us 2-0 up and, in truth, this should have been more before the home-side pulled one back from a corner on the cusp of half-time. The second-half was less impressive as we lost control of the midfield and failed to extend our lead despite our usual majority of possession and territory.
Looking back this game can arguably sum up our season so far: loads of the ball, inconsistency, poor defending and the failure to take chances. Yes, arguably we were the better team and we did win that day but it's fair to say we huffed and puffed and didn't really impress - or least inspire confidence - by the time the game finished. Indeed, although we beat Motherwell in injury time the following week, we then went over a month without a league win with defeat to Celtic and Aberdeen and draws to Killie and Ross County. It's safe to say by the time we did get three points again at the start of October, any league challenge had already evaporated and it was obvious we'd have to improve to achieve a top three finish.
Unfortunately things have continued to go wrong. Injuries to key players and fall outs in the dressing and board rooms have effectively left us manager-less for Sunday's game. Celtic have stormed off into the distance whilst an in-form Aberdeen have now overtaken us into second position and our poor run of recent results means Hearts will fancy catching us too. Add in the fact we had to come from behind to beat Morton last weekend in the Scottish Cup, there's a argument things couldn't get much worse. The familiar lack of confidence we had under the stewardship of the Green's and McCoist's of this world is an aura many bears are carrying again. What would we give for a comfortable away win this weekend?
As it stands the man responsible for delivering that is Graeme Murty. When the former Scotland player joined Rangers as Head Development Coach a few days after that Dundee win in August, I doubt he'd see himself standing in the first team dugout as interim manager six months later. Last week must have been a surreal experience - one day looking after the needs of our youth players, the next ordering Kenny Miller and Clint Hill around the training field. The sensible option was to avoid too much tinkering with the team for the Morton match and, despite the loss of an awful early goal, he and his players managed to turn things around into victory on the day.
With that in mind, I'd expect a similarly pragmatic outlook from Murty for Dens Park. Yes it would be easy to oblige critical fans and make large-scale changes to personnel and tactics but it's doubtful Murty would have been brought in if he didn't buy into Warburton's ethos of attacking football. Even in the wake of the previous manager's resignation, Dave King has talked about maintaining this philosophy going forward so should we expect our usual 4-3-3 on Sunday afternoon?
One issue that may determine a change to that likelihood is the probable unavailability of captain Lee Wallace with another muscle strain. Just like the hamstring injury that kept him out of various games at the turn of the year, I suspect the left-back will miss out again this week. As such, the manager will have to decide whether or not to move to a back three as Warburton did for games against St Johnstone and Celtic in December or utilise the likes of Lee Hodson at left back. With his defence looking less than secure against Morton, it may be the first option is preferred with recalls for Kiernan and Wilson giving Clint Hill more protection that Senderos has of late.
This, in turn, would allow us to deploy five men in midfield and perhaps even two strikers in attack! Although Warburton's 3-5-2 was extremely attacking (with Barrie McKay effectively as our left wing-back), Murty may choose to be a bit less open to deliver a sounder platform in the middle of the park. Using a combination of Holt and Hydman to hold with McKay in a more offensive role and Halliday on the left-flank would seem to make most sense - though neither Scotsmen have impressed of late - so it could be Hodson or Toral are used instead.
Opening up two strikers' roles also opens up further debate. Do we persist with the mainly reliable Kenny Miller to help link the play along and who do we play alongside (or slightly in front of him)? Do we persevere with the inconsistent Martyn Waghorn knowing he's just as capable of being anonymous as scoring goals or do we recall Joe Garner to add a more physical nature to our play knowing he's not quite as dangerous in front of goal? The likes of O'Halloran, Dodoo and Forrester will be equally keen to feature and the latter has a particularly good record against Dundee.
No matter the team Graeme Murty selects, a change of manager hasn't resulted in any answers (yet) to the same pre and post-match questions we've had all season. Problems in defence, minimal presence in midfield and a lack of goals are all issues that have resulted in inconsistent results throughout this campaign. As such the biggest question we have now is whether or not Murty (or indeed AN Other) can do what Mark Warburton couldn't and solve these issues. It's perhaps unfair to expect Murty to do this in little over seven days but the clock is definitely ticking on all concerned at the club if we want to salvage a quickly disintegrating season.
A week is a long time in football but the next three months will tell us exactly who can live with playing for and managing our great club. Delivering European football remains a big test but it's one we need answers to. Let's start with a positive response on Sunday!
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