It's been a strange summer so far. Off the pitch, the weather has been as poor as I can remember during July and August. On the pitch, after an appalling early Europa League knock-out, some positive pre-season friendly results meant when our domestic campaign got under-way two weeks ago, fans were confident we could improve substantially on last years disappointing 3rd place.
An opening day win away to Motherwell helped develop that mindset further. Despite the home side giving everything until the final whistle, unlike last season, our players stood tall. Yes, we didn't play brilliantly and we still gave away too many chances - but we worked hard, competed physically and also took a couple of chances amidst bad luck suffered by Josh Windass in particular. "Bring on the Hibs, the Hearts and Celtic" was the familiar mantra; especially after knocking six past Dunfermline in the following midweek cup match.
Fast forward to Ibrox last Saturday. Just over two minutes into the game, we open the scoring with Alfredo Morelos grabbing his third goal in two matches as we dominated the early exchanges. Bizarrely Anthony Stokes stayed on the park despite grabbing James Tavernier by the neck and throwing him to the ground - dangerous play punished by a red card even in rugby - yet John Beaton saw fit only to offer a yellow. C'est la, erm, football as the French probably don't often say. Nevertheless, we continued to work hard and despite the physical attention of Hibs (and the leniency of the officials) once again only the woodwork stopped us from adding to our lead.
Unfortunately, just after that we lost concentration for a few moments with Hibs equalising on the break and against the run of play. That not only levelled things up on the score-board but in terms of how the game was going as Hibs started to improve across the pitch. What a pity the referee didn't fancy that balance as he completely spoiled what was shaping up to be a great contest by sending off Ryan Jack after a midfield melee. Only John Beaton can explain why he felt the former Aberdeen man was the only offender worthy of being sent off. Thankfully Jack had his red card rescinded upon appeal but the damage was done in situ as Hibs went on to win comfortably despite a late counter from us amidst a raft of inexplicable officiating. No wonder Neil Lennon, Stokes and others have been so smug for the rest of the week. GIRUY indeed!
Predictably and understandably Rangers fans have been angry - mainly at the refereeing but also at the result. Sure, perhaps there wasn't much the manager (or players) could have done last weekend post-melee but, once again, we've dropped valuable points at home very early on and other teams already have the initiative. Worse, the confidence from the weeks before is replaced by uncertainty, meaning morale once again takes a hit and fans are left wondering how we'll react. Last season, players retreated into their shell and we seemed to lack belief all too often.
Ahead of tomorrow's visit by Hearts that negative attitude must change.
First and foremost, given what happened last week - motivation should not be a problem. Once again there will be a full house at Ibrox and I'm sure Pedro Caixinha will be eager to call the pre-match shots in the dressing-room. However, the game could be played behind closed doors and without the manager's input and I'd still expect a strong reaction from our players. Some didn't do themselves justice last week and that, along with the performance of the officials, should deliver a determination we may not have seen for a while from a Rangers team. Yes, the referee let us down last week but we once again conceded three soft goals so let's channel our disappointment as positively as possible.
Ryan Jack's availability to play helps in that it allows the manager to make as few changes as possible with Lee Wallace for his name-sake Hodson likely to be the only change at left back. The return of our captain should be a perfect coincidence as he can lead from the front - both in terms of improving his own contribution but by ensuring our players retain their discipline and composure should the game take a similar direction as last weeks. After all, as much as Beaton's obvious incompetence was bizarre, tomorrow's ref Willie Collum isn't known for his quality either.
In any case, we cannot let ourselves to be distracted by officials tomorrow. Sure, their part in the narrative of any football game is an important one but whenever we need to rely on referees for decisions to help us win games, is the day we become defeatist forever. As such, tomorrow should be all about doing our job. Start the game strongly again, take the chances we'll create, compete physically and defend well. Those are just four pillars of fostering a winning mentality and that's something we must do if we're to be successful again. Celtic remain unbeaten from last season and Aberdeen also had three important runs of wins last term as they finished above us in second place. Only once did we win more than two games in a row in the league and that's unacceptable for a club like Rangers.
Of course, statistics like that don't always highlight anomalies like last week but if we're to improve this season then we have to find a way of not only not dropping points but winning on a regular basis. Performances won't always be great but three points are usually enough to keep people happy. However, out of all the issues we've had since 2012, perhaps losing this kind of winning mentality has cost us more than many of us realised. It's time for that to change and the circumstances of last week should help galvanise us all. After Hibs in the song above, Hearts should be our first win on a five match run before we face Celtic at home. We shall not be moved? Let's take that song back...
Possible team (4-4-2):
What are the bookies saying?
Miller's confidence in Rangers' goal scoring abilities this season appears to be shared by the bookmakers at www.sunbets.co.uk. Although the Glasgow side isn't topping the latest outright markets - that honour goes to Celtic (1/20) -, the odds makers do believe there is a chance. If the likes of Miller et al can fire on all cylinders, 16/1 on Rangers could be a solid bet. Of course, with Hibs at 9/1 and Aberdeen hovering at 20/1 for the title, it won't be an easy run towards the title. However, if Miller can recapture some of his finest form and inspire his teammates like he did when he scored five in one game against St Mirren in 2000, anything could happen.
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