written by – Jordan Campbell
Another abject performance against Queen of the South left Rangers nine points adrift of Hearts, with the gap set to increase if the league leaders win their game in hand. The crushing defeats are becoming alarmingly frequent and criticism of the players and management team is therefore warranted. However, there does seem to be an ignorance amongst the support when it comes to identifying where it is all going wrong.
Too often I read fans blaming the poor results on a lack of commitment or effort from the players; I don’t buy that over-simplistic diagnosis. I believe the players are still playing for Ally, even under the circumstances. The underlying problem is not the shortage of passion or dedication, it is a case of poor footballing intelligence and the subsequent failure to correct these mistakes that is leading to our downfall.
If our team consisted of a nucleus of youngsters who are still learning the ropes this would be, not acceptable, but understandable. But as we all know, this is not the case.
Rightly or wrongly, Ally opted for a team of experienced players instead of putting his trust in Auchenhowie’s alumni. This short term approach meant our squad was assembled from players who have dropped down from the top flight or who have returned to Ibrox hoping to relive former glories; players that in normal circumstances, wouldn’t be of the calibre of player that we would be looking to sign.
Supporters from around the country accused the likes of Nicky Law, David Templeton, Ian Black and Dean Shiels of swapping their ambition for a handsome paycheque. But you can’t blame them for wanting to be a part of a historical journey back to the summit of Scottish football. After all, it may be the only chance in their career to play for a club the size of ours where, up until this season, we were still attracting crowds of 40,000 plus. S o I don’t believe they came to Rangers for the money, or in doing so lowered their ambition, but what I do think is that they expected it to be a stroll in the park and have struggled to shake off that mentality.
Over the last two seasons we have been subjected to dire football but have still managed to comfortably seal back to back to promotions due to the level of opposition we faced. In that time I feel our squad has developed a blasé attitude as a result where we were happy to just get the job done, not work on improving our style or play or correcting the flaws in our system, of which there are many. Now that we’re in a more competitive league, we can no longer afford to make several glaring errors every game, but I just don’t see any progress or evidence that we are learning from our mistakes.
What makes that even more disturbing is the fact that we have the second highest wage and the highest paid management team in the country, who together seem incapable of correcting our mistakes.
This was highlighted on Friday night when Queen of the South scored a near carbon copy of the goal we conceded against Hearts a few weeks ago.
It is far too easy to pin the blame on one man but the common denominator in both cases is the captain Lee McCulloch. His positional sense for a centre half is woeful, and has been since he was thrust into the alien position the best part of three seasons ago. For most of that time he has been able to sail through games with his deficiencies going unnoticed, but it was clear to me then that it was only a matter of time before he was found out against better opposition. And that has proved to be the case.
HEARTS GOAL ANALYSIS:
For starters, both of these goals were easily preventable, but there are several stages to each goal which I feel exemplify our shortcomings this season.
The first is the midfield.
Although we were down to ten men at this point against Hearts, the failure to stop Callum Paterson from collecting the ball just past the halfway line and travelling 20 odd yards unchallenged before crossing is schoolboy stuff. The one man advantage played a part but ultimately it comes down to a case of discipline.
Lewis Macleod shouldn’t have pressed Gomis as he left Paterson spare and Lee Wallace should have read the play better and pushed up higher, although he was pre occupied by another man.
But the main culprit was Lee McCulloch. At 36, he has played nearly 250 games for the club, winning ten honours and reaching a UEFA Cup Final. With that vast amount of experience, I find it astounding that he found himself in such a bad position considering the cross came from so deep.
As Patterson gallops forward, McCulloch is in a relatively good position. But when the forward makes a slight deviation on his run, his body position is completely wrong. One of the basics of playing centre half is that you are always facing side on, ready to either step in and intercept or drop off and sweep up any danger. Here though, McCulloch is caught square on, frantically backtracking as he realises that he has left the striker with acres of space in behind him.
The commentators at the time claimed that McCulloch had done well to get a toe on the ball, which was astonishing as it was through his own poor positioning that he had to make a last ditch attempt to atone for his loss of concentration. We were unlucky as the ball ricocheted off McGregor straight into the path of Jason Holt who finished well, but he managed to escape the attention of Ian Black far too easily. If you watch Black during the build-up he is keeping tabs on Holt until he gets attracted to the ball and leaves his man free on the edge of the box. It doesn’t seem to register with Nicky Law either that there is a man spare waiting to pounce on a loose ball.
Central midfield has been a problem all season, and was highlighted in the last half an hour of the 1-1 draw with Alloa at Ibrox when their midfield trio strolled through the gaping hole vacated by our midfield pairing at will. It was evident again in the Petrofac Cup semi-final when Law and Black failed to track their runners for two of the last three goals.
QOS GOAL ANALYSIS:
As stated above, our midfield is too easy to play against. We do not seem to press as a unit or with any real purpose with the exception of Ian Black who, although at times is reckless, harries his opponent endlessly. On this occasion, one simple pass penetrated our midfield as Lyle took up a position in between the defence and midfield. This has been a feature of how other teams set up against us, adopting the position in the ‘hole’ between our two rigid banks of four.
We struggle to deal with teams who don’t play in straight lines like ourselves, as their movement and interchanging causes us chaos. Our centre backs don’t seem confident in stepping out and stopping the striker from turning and the midfield don’t seem to be aware of what is around them. But communication also plays a big part in this, and I’m afraid we don’t seem to have any leaders who will take command out on the park.
Again, there are several stages again to this goal which could be rectified with simple shaping work on the training ground.
Firstly, Law should have done better to guard against the ball to Lyle. As he didn’t and was now in behind our midfield, McCulloch had to step out of defence to prevent him from turning, which he did. But when the ball is played out wide, Fraser Aird is caught up the pitch and Richard Foster doesn’t come out to press (like against Hearts), allowing Carmichael to play the ball to Reilly.
It was an exquisite pass from Carmichael, who has been a thorn in our side in every meeting between the teams this season, but if you pause the game at the exact moment the ball is played, our defensive line is shambolic.
As McCulloch had been dragged out of position, Bilel Mohsni -who actually looked straight at Reilly – should have come across to pick the striker up. For some reason he didn’t which made it even more difficult for McCulloch to get back into position but even so, his laboured jog back into position was a shocking attempt.
By the time he realises the ball is about to be played into Reilly’s path it is too late and a sublime touch and finish made it two.
Darren McGregor may not be a right back but his inability to spot the danger in this instance shows how poor the footballing intelligence in this team is. Although he had his own man to deal with on the outside of him, the immediate danger was inside in the form of Reilly. If he had tucked in and dropped off by 15 yards he could have cleared the danger, but he failed to recognise that his teammate was exposed, and in not using his initiative, he invited the pass.
It appears that McCulloch hasn’t learnt any lessons from the opener at Tynecastle, and his removal from the starting line-up is now long overdue, along with Bilel Mohsni. It’s imperative that if Ally McCoist remains in charge, he drops the pals act and picks the team on merit because at this present moment both our centre backs’ places in the team are untenable.
After the Hearts game you would have expected a thorough examination of the performance to have taken place at the training ground. But after watching Friday night’s game it is difficult to know whether a post mortem was held or whether they were told the long, hopeful punts to Jon Daly weren’t good enough.