Three Stars of the Game
Inspiration: After each National Hockey League game — the local media votes for the ‘Three Stars of the Game’ — basically the Man of the Match — but as a treble! So in that spirt – here are Rangers Three Stars of the Game.
First Star: Richard Foster – Rangers go-to whipping boy is my surprise choice for the best Rangers player in the victory over Hibs. I know – I’m pretty shocked as well. The opening formation of a 3-5-2 really seems to suit Foster, as his main emphasis becomes pushing the play forward, while he is left to worry about his defensive obligations to a lesser degree as a wing back. Plus, he actually was quite dangerous on the attack. He nearly set-up Kenny Miller for a shot-on-goal & earned numerous corner kicks by pressuring Hibernian’s left back. For large parts of the second half, as Rangers were trying to figure out Hibs’ tactical adjustments – Foster was the driving force of the offense – even more so then his counterpart Lee Wallace. When Ally McCoist reverted to a 4-4-2, Foster continued to push forward but also handled his defensive responsibilities well.
Second Star: Nicky Law – obviously his timely goal in extra-time was a huge moment as Rangers avoided the embarrassment of being taken to penalties by a 10-man Hibs side. It was clinical finish, as he had a bit of time & made the most of it. In the first half, Law played a really strong game. He was patient on the ball & always looking to drive the play forward.
However, he was mostly non-existent in the second half. This was largely due to tactical adjustments made by Alan Stubbs at the half. There may be a worrying trend beginning to develop as Rangers take on managers who have the smarts, & the players, to make alterations in their tactical approach at the half to counter the game-plan of Ally McCoist.
Against Ottawa, albeit in a friendly, the exact same thing happened. Rangers were playing a pressing, fluid match that was controlling possession & the opponent. Then at the half, the opposing manager adjusted to how the match had developed & flipped the momentum in their favor. Stubbs did the same on Tuesday.
Hibs controlled possession in the initial part of the half & were justly rewarded with a goal in the 59th minute. Prior to the red card, Hibs had worked up to owning 51% of the possession – which was even more impressive given that Rangers outplayed Hibs during the opening 45 minutes. Rangers ended up owning 54% of possession after 120 minutes but that was largely due to the sending off of Danny Handling.
Third Star: Kenny Miller – the addition of Miller to the squad this season really could make a world of difference compared to last season. So often Rangers offense went static with Jon Daly as a lone striker up top. When a match begged for a forward to make the runs necessary to open up space for his teammates – there was Jon Daly alone & statuesque. Miller’s work-rate was most noticeable in the first half as he quickly linked up with Kris Boyd to create a couple of opportunities. He plays with a quality & confidence that Nicky Clark never seemed to figure out last year. Once Hibs began to dominate possession – obviously Miller’s work went unnoticed. As the 120 minutes dragged on, Miller did appear to be understandably fatigued & it begged the question to why McCoist only used one substitute until MacLeod picked up a knock towards the end of the match.
Lewis MacLeod looked shaky & even a little nervous in the opening ten minutes of the match, but quickly gained his confidence & clinically slotted home the opener off of a Lee Wallace cross. When McCoist decided to go with the 3-5-2 formation it allowed MacLeod to play more centrally & it really suited MacLeod’s abilities. Also, he will really flourish this season with Miller’s constant drive in front of him – creating passing alleys with his runs that MacLeod will be able to exploit with is vision. MacLeod also wasn’t afraid to play with some grit & get physical with the opposing midfielders – especially after he took on a harsh tackle or two. He was particularly quiet in the second, as was Law, & his set-pieces are from clinical yet – but it’s sure nice to have MacLeod back on the pitch…David Templeton came on in the 67th minute & had an instant impact. Credit should go to Ally McCoist for reacting to Stubbs’ adjustments by bringing in Templeton for Darren McGregor & then flipping the formation to a 4-4-2. Then, Templeton’s pace & skill kept pressuring the Hibs right side of the pitch, earning a number of fouls & obviously the game changing red card in the 74th minute.
I have no doubt that Kris Boyd will bag a ton of goals this season but it has been worrisome to see him apparently struggle with his fitness at the outset of the season. One of the talking points of the ‘new Kris Boyd’ was that he learned to appreciate the importance of fitness from his stint in Portland & that was part of his drive to be a more complete player – the player we saw last season in Kilmarnock. It’s still early, but he missed a few chances – that could have been goals. Some were altered by strong defensive play & some maybe should have been finished if Boyd had that final burst of quickness necessary. It’s still early, though…Ian Black, like the rest of the team, started the match strong. He was playing with that sand paper grit he is known for & passing with real vision – but then the bad habits crept back into his game during the second stanza. Aimless passes & ridiculous shots had his teammates shaking their heads on numerous occasions. Also, it was his flubbing of the ball that led to Hibs equalizer.