OK, I've taken some liberties with the preview title in that it reflects our last game rather than the tricky task facing us this Saturday in Motherwell. Perhaps I should apologise for taking us back to the Kilmarnock capitulation but as I cleared the car of yet more ice this morning, it was difficult not to cast my mind back two weeks.
That day, Rangers didn't just lose a game - they completely fell apart. On the park, we couldn't string two passes together never mind look like scoring a goal. Off the park, Graeme Murty seemed to shrink further and further into his Puma overcoat - not just necessarily from the chill of the weather that day but perhaps also from the task at hand. Meanwhile, the away supporters had their most comfortable day at Ibrox in the best part of 20 years. Unlike the poor excuses offered by some of our fans, they didn't feel the cold.
Interestingly, I thought we actually started the game fairly well. Like most matches this season, we controlled the first 15-20mins and should have taken the lead when Russell Martin missed a headed sitter during that period. That miss then set the tone for the rest of the game. Killie took confidence, we abdicated responsibility and although we were unlucky not to equalise late on from another Martin header, there was nothing, literally nothing, to take from the game in a positive sense. And despite a really disappointing loss to a ten-man Celtic outfit the previous week, failing to turn up against Killie actually hurt more.
That pain was made worse by another inconvenient international break. Watching Scotland is hardly an exciting prospect nowadays and even although a few Rangers players were away representing their country only one or two can say they formed a key part of their squad. Bizarrely after an awful performance two week's ago, Bruno Alves played the full 90mins in Portugal's 2-1 over Egypt before watching from the bench as his team fell to a 0-3 defeat at home to Holland. Now, perhaps it isn't fair to single out individuals after what was an awful team display against Killie but Alves has been a big let down so far this season. Sure his age was always going to mean a lack of pace but his overall contribution has been poor. Injuries are part of the game and can be excused but I expected a lot more from him in terms of leadership, yet we've rarely seen that since he signed. Ironically, Portugal's defeat against Holland may have already secured Alves' place for the World Cup in Russia but he can't be considered first choice for Rangers up until the summer.
Unfortunately we don't have too may options in central defence with David Bates perhaps out for the rest of the campaign and Ross McCrorie (although back in full training) still a few weeks away from returning to the side (the Scottish Cup tie against Celtic may come too soon for him). This means a partnership of Alves and Martin for the time being and both will need to be much, much better this weekend up against Curtis Main and Nadir Ciftci. One wonders if Lee Wallace may feature in a three man back line for Rangers so we can strengthen in central midfield?
It was in the engine room that we struggled badly against Killie. Yes, we still had a fair amount of possession but not one player in that area of the pitch came out with any credit from the game in a creative sense. Quite simply Kilmarnock worked incredibly hard to deny us time and space on the ball and, as we seen with Motherwell earlier in the season, our hosts will do the same this Saturday. A defiant draw against Celtic despite going down to ten men themselves the other week showed the kind of battling qualities we'll encounter at Fir Park once more.
This offers Graeme Murty another quandary. Does he pack the midfield knowing we'll lack space to operate in but perhaps offering the chance to play two in attack? Or does he look for width on a pitch that always appears tighter than most? And can he afford to drop creative outlets such as Windass, Murphy or Candeias? I must concede, for the first time in a long time, I'm not sure what the team and system will be and that might just be a good thing as we've been too predictable of late. Experienced guys like the afore-mentioned Wallace along with Kenny Miller and the fit again Graham Dorrans may return as we head towards the business end of the season. A two week break may also have given Murty the chance to test a new formation.
That takes us back to the preview title. It's an away game so the magnificent travelling Rangers support will give the team their usual fantastic backing so I can't see us being outsung. The outfought and outplayed part remains to be seen though. Murty and his players have had the same fortnight as us to deal with the recent defeats so I'd hope - nay expect - we're ready to make amends on Saturday. The last time we lost twice in a row, we reacted well to beat Motherwell at Ibrox which was the start of a five game unbeaten run. We'll need the same and more this week to decide the rest of the season. We can ill afford to lose again.
Editor's Note: Keep an eye on the forum early next week for the launch of our new podcast which will review all the action from Saturday's game and more!
Possible team (4-4-2 Diamond):
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