Following the nail-biting, nerve-shredding, torturous second leg against Queen of the South on Sunday I thought it would be fitting to mark the re-launch of Rangers Report with a concept I know I enjoyed as a reader; the 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: Haris Vuckic
The Slovenian proved once again why he would have been a shoo-in for the player of the year award had he been at Ibrox since the start of the season. In a tense affair in which the nerves on the field were almost tangible, the on-loan midfielder displayed a composure and a poise that was absent in so many. Throughout, his awareness of what is around him allowed him to drift in from the right and find pockets in and around the QOS box where he was able to use his trickery and vision to exploit the gaps in James Fowler’s team. The catalyst for much of our positive play in the opening twenty minutes, he was heavily involved in the build-up, adding a much needed purpose and precision to the frustratingly, deliberate process which often sees us resort to hopeful crosses into the box from deep. A low, drilled free kick almost caught out an inspired Zander Clark in goal and a slaloming run inside the penalty area almost saw Nicky Law open the scoring, but it was going the other way which proved to be decisive at the weekend. Proving to doubters that he is aware of his defensive responsibilities within the team shape, he showed his commitment to the cause by concentrating on his set-piece duties as he popped up to clear Lyle’s goal bound header off the line while our backs to the wall defending the slender aggregate lead. But while so many of the current players flatter to deceive, he regularly has an end product to his work, and the case was proven once more as his intricate footwork and clipped cross into the chest of Nick Clark led to Wallace’s equaliser. Another stellar performance from a player whose guile and elegance when under pressure will be much needed on Wednesday if we are to open up Hibs’ defence.
Second Star: Dean Shiels
The Northern Irishman has been reinvented under McCall, playing in a deeper role where he can influence the tempo and dictate play far more than when he was consigned to a bit-part role under McCoist where he cut an isolated figure up front in the limited chances he had to stake his claim for a regular starting spot. On Sunday, he and Andy Murdoch took it in turns to collect the ball off the two centre halves but it was Shiels who was the more influential of the two when in possession. Not content with simply playing the safe option, he was always on the half turn looking to run at the QOS midfield and make things happen. Unlike in the previous three years, rather surprisingly he and Murdoch have added a bite to the middle of the park, making us a much tougher shell to crack than when the like of Ian Black patrolled the centre circle.
Third Star: Lee Wallace
The stand-in skipper may have stolen the headlines with the pivotal goal but he put in a tireless performance down the left flank. Back in his more comfortable left back role after being shoe-horned into a back three in the first leg, he was up against Daniel Carmichael, a player who has proved to be a real thorn in our side this year. While the nippy winger did occasionally pose a threat down the right wing, Wallace used his experience and marshalled him well throughout. However, as usual, it was his trademark marauding runs down the line which had the biggest impact on the game. Although his delivery was inconsistent, a feature of our bright start was his link up play with Nicky Law which allowed him to reach the by-line only for our two forwards to make the exact same runs leaving the front post space unoccupied. However, in the second half when we were desperately searching for an opening, it was he who produced the big moment, calmly slotting home Nicky Clark’s well cushioned lay-off despite the calls for offside. A leader’s performance from the man who should rightfully wear the armband for years to come.
Some may point to one of Vuckic’s mazy runs, others may cite the well worked goal, some may even choose the final whistle as their highlight out of pure relief, but somewhat surprisingly I’m going to opt for Mohsni’s astounding run and shot in the 88th minute as my stand-out moment for its sheer comedy value.
I can assure you at the time I did not find it find it in the slightest bit funny – as those who sit around me can probably vouch for – but I have to admit that out of pure disbelief at what I was seeing I did let out a chuckle once I had calmed down from the initial rage.
Sent on to protect a lead, he robbed QOS of possession (although the tug of the shirt may have been illegal) and galloped down the wing. 50,000 people awaited a slow jog to the corner flag to run the clock down. But this is Bilel Mohsni; the big Tunisian doesn’t do conventional or boring. In the weird and wonderful mind of the Mohsni he thought it best to hit a forty yard, left footed daisy-cutter from virtually the edge of the park. As ludicrous as it was, it did provide some much needed respite after twenty minutes of being camped on our own penalty area. I suppose it’s okay to laugh at it now as we scraped over the line in the end up – though it would have been a different story completely had they went up the other end and scored!