Given the context of the endless parade of empty victories this season – the last minute goal for Raith Rovers may have been the dose of reality that Rangers need. It is sad, but inevitably true.
What if the match had gone to penalties & let’s say Rangers found a way to eek out a victory?
They would have won a trophy that no supporter would have ever imagined caring about a scant few years ago while the players & its manager would have celebrated a very hollow victory.
This loss has creates a flash-point that highlights weaknesses that have been apparent for several months now.
I’ll preface the following —like thousands of other Rangers supporters have done before me — words cannot express the admiration I have for Ally McCoist & all of the glory that he has brought to Rangers. I’m a child of the 80’s – & there is no greater Rangers icon then Super Ally. No matter what happens to him, that can never be overlooked.
However, this loss encapsulates the fact that McCoist is not the right man for the job of managing Rangers Football Club.
You cannot simply roll the ball out, proclaim ‘We are mighty Rangers!’ & expect the results to come. Take a look back at the body language of the two managers during the match. One seemed engaged, leading from the touchline as he barked out directions to the players. The other looked befuddled & disappointed.
There was some reserved exasperation when the lineups were announced. The fact this was a cup final made many bottle their response. There was a buzz & hope of a cup final to enjoy.
But this was a tepid lineup. Starting Steven Smith, Kyle Hutton & Ian Black in midfield does not send the message to the opponent that we’re going to take this match by the throat & beat you into submission. Rather starting with three defensive minded players in midfield says – we’re going to hold on & hope to win a battle of attrition.
Then there is the matter of Jon Daly. Yet again, he was thrust up front on an island with Nicky Law slotted just behind him. Note, Law’s tendency for Rangers is to drift back into support rather then to constantly assert himself into the attack. At the beginning of each half, Law was pushing forward & Rangers looked dangerous. Then after 10 minutes or so – he disappeared into the old habit of not committing to pressing forward & the team’s play suffered.
Jon Daly has proven for several weeks that he needs a striking partner to feed off of. Without one, he lingers in obscurity.
Early in the match when Rangers were actually pressuring the defence, Daly was nowhere to be found. He is sadly, given his lack of mobility, a one-trick pony. His aerial prowess has netted him plenty of goals this season but his isolated presence up top stifles the Rangers attack. Furthermore, week in, week out – McCoist has to basically waste a substitution to bring on another forward in order to spark the offence.
Does the presence of Jon Daly give Rangers a better chance to win? Maybe. But would a combination of Nicky Clark & Callum Gallagher give the side a better chance of victory? Wouldn’t the size of Lee McCulloch & Bilel Mohsni compensate for the loss of Daly on set pieces whilst allowing Clark & Gallagher to breakdown a defence with their runs & energy? Who knows? How could we? Daly has been trotted out each & every single week as McCoist has failed to experiment much with how he lines up his squad.
The growing trend in sport today is the success of teams that rely on quickness & pressuring an opponent into submission. Two examples immediately come to mind.
The first is actually in the National Hockey League.
In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings were known as a talented but slow & passive hockey team. Then they made a coaching change that would eventually flip the fortunes of the team & lead it to a championship. The new approach focused on puck possession & when the team did not have the puck to pressure the opponent in their own end until that possession was regained.
Additionally, with a new approach to the game – a slow team became a quick team. It doesn’t matter how fast a player is, it matters how quick the puck (or ball) moves. Gone were hopeful passes up the ice, as structured break outs with the puck were emphasized.
Lastly, they brought in two young players to rejuvenate the energy level of the team. These were not superstars or young phenoms. They were hard working, energetic players who never gave up on a play.
The results: the Kings knocked off the best teams in the league in quick succession & went on to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
Two different sports – but apply some of those lessons to Rangers & ask yourself how much better the team’s performance would be.
All right, now back to football.
Liverpool have become the darlings of English football for the first time in nearly 25 years & that is largely due to the tactical philosophy put in place by manager Brendan Rodgers. Keep the ball moving in order to maintain a quick tempo that will eventually break down a defence. The focus is on attack & trying to dominate control of the pace of the match. Maintaining possession leads to a positive attack.
Rodgers struggled initially at the club, as he implemented his system & weeded out players that did not fit into it. But throughout his tenure, Rodgers has been steadfast in his tactical approach & the team is now on the verge of shocking the football world.
It’s the type of football revolution that Rangers supporters have been begging for since the drop to the third division.
Of course, gone are the days when you could compare the resources available to Liverpool with Rangers. But no matter, your resources you can sculpt a style of play that can breed success.
What is Ally McCoist’s football philosophy? Does he even have one?
Today’s loss was another reminder that there is no apparent tactical direction for the club. It appears that McCoist would rather play it safe with veteran, defensive minded players. Even when Lee Wallace went down to injury – McCoist turned to Sebastien Faure as a replacement when the game begged for a change in approach. It was another like-player swap even though Steven Smith could have easily slotted back into Wallace’s position. Instead you were left with…
Another glaring result of Sunday’s loss is that the construction of this current squad of players is not good enough.
Obviously, a lack of funds has meant that the team has been pieced together in an unorthodox manner but the club’s lack of a sufficient scouting system & a lack of cohesion in its youth ranks have tempered the Rangers’ hopes of foregone success next season.
Now let’s digress into some random venting…
It’s expected for a club to rely heavily on its best players, especially veterans in a cup final. Enter Steven Smith.
The inclusion of Smith did not lose this match, but it did little to win it either. It appears that McCoist was leaning on Smith, who has played sparingly this season, for his professional savvy & as a set-piece specialist.
Smith was able to rely on his experience to grind out some questionable calls from the referee, was effective from his corner kicks & almost had a glorious goal off a free kick if it weren’t for the exploits of Lee Robinson.
But beyond that his play was quite poor. His inability to sync up with Lee Wallace stifled the play up the left wing, outside of one counter attack that led to Wallace’s scoring chance. Plus, he’s a defender who was forced to play a midfield role. The poor results were to be expected.
Oh yeah, he’s signed through the 2016-17 season.
Of course, Smith was not the only flawed player on the day. It is difficult to leave any player out of the blame game.
It was refreshing to see a goalkeeper dominate the match while completely controlling the penalty box, unfortunately he was on the other team. Cammy Bell is a wonderful shot stopper & deserves no blame on the goal scored against him. But watching former Rangers youth keeper Lee Robinson spur on his teammates with his play that inspired confidence was a reminder that Bell’s passive presence in goal fails to evoke similar reactions.
Kyle Hutton did not play poorly & during one brief sequence was very effective moving the ball with quick, clean passing that kept the offence fluid in progression. Did I mention that it was one brief sequence? Beyond that he apparently avoided the responsibilities of actually posessing the ball.
His inclusion in the lineup was too safe & displayed once again McCoist’s aversion to taking a risk (i.e. playing Callum Gallagher – one of the few bright spots in Rangers play in recent weeks).
The build-up to Sunday’s match fostered some trepidation of how Bilel Mohsni would fair. His tendency to space out on defence & play with too much complacency was a concern, along with the overarching threat of multiple bookings.
There were times when Mohsni’s defence was dominating as he deflated any aerial attack coming from Raith Rovers. But yet again, his casual play created a few shocking moments that nearly led to breakaways for the opponent. Additionally, his lack of composure to bury two wide open chances at goal bookended the match. Plays that the likes of Terry Butcher, Richard Gough, David Weir, & Carlos Bocanegra would have buried were sent soaring over the crossbar.
Regarding the construction of this squad, of the matchday first eleven – eight were signed by Ally McCoist.
You cannot shine the spotlight on the poor play of the players without placing the blame back on the manager. This is his team.
The performances were poor, the loss was also not a surprise & Ally McCoist was out-managed in a cup final (again not a shock).
The fear has now shifted to the prospects of a Scottish Cup calamity that may ensue when the club takes on Dundee United.
The foregone conclusion of promotion next season has also been put on hold. Furthermore, the limelight of the missed opportunity to lead a ‘football revolution’ from the dregs of Scottish football has been illuminated yet again.
This was sadly exemplified in the waning minutes of extra time on Sunday. When one team retained its composure while the other did not.
Raith Rovers stuck to its game plan & refused to let the moment or referee decisions derail them. Rangers players began to unravel, especially in the last ten minutes of extra time — when the pressure of the moment truly seemed to distract rather then motivate the squad.
Will history mark this loss as the moment that changes the course of Rangers history? Or will the club continue to languish in the mire that is the leadership of Ally McCoist?