The ‘mental block’, as it is increasingly being dubbed, is affecting every match on Rangers’ travels. At Ibrox, in front of 50,000 spectators Rangers have rolled over every visiting side. The smallest margin of victory has been 3 goals. The defence has not been impenetrable but offensively the team has done the business and then some. Problem is, the side seems incapable of taking this impressive goalscoring prowess away from Govan into the bowels of the Third Division. Let us try to examine the main reasons why.
First off is the obvious one of motivation; Rangers are composed of SPL-standard players. Kevin Kyle, Francisco Sandaza, David Templeton et al are all experienced at the top level of Scottish football. They have played for medium sized clubs in front of medium crowds with visits to the temples of Ibrox and Parkhead thrown in as incentives. There might even be the odd cap for their country thrown in too, be it at senior or youth level. We are talking good players here. At Ibrox, during home games, the stadium is legendarily packed. Rangers have broken the world record for a fourth tier attendance, with a half ton thousand flooding the stands. Now, let us look at matches on the road in comparison:
The capacity of Galabank, the home ground of yesterday’s opponents Annan Athletic, barely exceeds 2000. That is a 25th of the crowd at home.
The capacity of Balmoor, home of opening day hosts Peterhead is 4000. That is a 12th of the crowd of Ibrox.
The capacity of Hampden, home of Queens Park, is 50,000 – that is equal to Ibrox, but that trip will not occur till late December.
The biggest home crowd Rangers will travel to before then is on the 28th of next month with Clyde’s Broadmoor stadium holding 8000 people.
With the obvious noted exception, the away grounds this group of SPL-standard players are travelling to are extremely small. This is a huge problem. How do you inspire a top quality player to travel to a dingy stadium every other week and put in his best performance? These guys are used to large crowds, or, significantly, large stadiums even if they are not full. It is quite a different prospect to play in a far less affluent ground which probably does not even have seats. We have all been to these small grounds. I personally used to attend Pollok Juniors whose ground is 4000, akin to a Third Division club. The difference between these places and Hampden, Ibrox and Celtic Park is quite the culture shock. And it seems the players are simply not giving everything as a result. Truth is, can you blame them? If you were a senior manager in a top law firm, who was sent to work for a lesser company for a year, with far inferior facilities, your motivation would go down too. It is psychologically driven and inevitable that effort and motivation will suffer when the environment is so significantly less appetising.
The second reason is the ‘Aberdeen Principle’. During Rangers’ former days in the SPL, one team legendarily raised its game way higher against Rangers than against any other side. Players and managers, post-career of course, even admitted it to be the case. This principle is a major reason Rangers, coupled with the first reason, are struggling away from home. Put simply, buoyed by the knowledge they would be pulling off arguably ‘the biggest upset in Scottish football history’, teams like Peterhead and the likes are raising their games to much higher levels than they would normally be. It is far less motivating to play Elgin in front of a half empty 4000-capacity ground people than it is to take on the mighty Glasgow Rangers in front of a packed audience and potentially create history in the process. It is a huge, huge fillip and cannot be underestimated. Every side that even gets a draw against Rangers has taken something of a scalp. Think about the ‘giant-killing’ of domestic cups, the romance of David V Goliath. That principle is exactly the same every time Rangers travel.
The third reason, sadly, rests at the door of the manager, Ally McCoist. This is not a call for his head, for from it; but that is now three away trips on the trot without a single victory to show for them. Particularly against Berwick, there were substantial questions on a tactical basis to ask of the manager. First off the performance was clearly not up to scratch, and well before the first half was out the team resorted to unimaginative lumped up balls up top. Turgid, stale football which badly needed addressed. McCoist was fuming at half time, rightly so and we expected a revitalised team to come out and start playing properly. But the long balls continued as did the complete lack of apparent gameplan.
In fact, so persistent was the team to play the long ball, which was not working, that McCoist resorted to bringing on Kevin Kyle, who was tall enough as a target man to be a receiver. Instead of managing to alter the clearly-failing tactic, he instead gave in to it and tried to accommodate it. This really is not what a manager is supposed to do, and Ally is struggling massively to both counter the first two problems detailed in this blog, and devise suitable systems for the team. It is not invalid to question McCoist’s tactics, albeit there is a (understandable) taboo about being critical given what he sacrificed on a personal basis during our darkest hours earlier this year. But sadly what he did, as incredible and legendary as it was, does not help us on the pitch right now in terms of winning football matches – it is a separate thing. Nothing has worked away from home, but, that said, in McCoist’s defence I struggle to see how Jose Mourinho would do any better in these freakish circumstances.
In a nutshell, those appear to be the three de-facto problems stopping Rangers travelling with success. How they will be overcome is anyone’s guess, but it needs to happen relatively soon or promotion will be anything but guaranteed.