Sadly for Rangers, the Defence Rests

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It is clear that Rangers are a
class above the third division. The 20 point gap over nearest rivals Queens Park
as we move into March is tangible proof of this. However despite that consistently
superior level, one other consistent has been distinctly unwelcome this season;
the remarkably shoddy defence.
The goal difference the Ibrox men
have over the rest of the league is impressive thanks to the mostly on-form
attack. Both home and away the Govan side has scored almost double the
second-placed Hampden outfit have managed, and 20 more at home than the second
most prolific striking performance which is Montrose, in third.
However, when we break the goal
difference down, and examine goals conceded, the picture is remarkably less
pretty. In front of the Bill Struth Main Stand Rangers have conceded only 7
less than Queens Park have in Mount Florida, and staggeringly, 1 more when on
their travels at 14. Indeed, that is the same number, away from home, as
fourth-placed Peterhead.
While Rangers’ superiority in
offence elevates them above the third division, there is absolutely no doubt
that the defence very much belongs in the lowest tier of Scottish football
despite possessing ‘SPL-level’ players.
When the slightest chunk of
pressure is placed upon the backline, it caves. All-season long fans have been
frustrated by the regular inability of the defence to do its basic job, and
faced by a much lower level of opposition than they normally would expect it is
understandable that supporters would be so irate.
Looking at it as objectively as
possible, what can the reasons be for such a dreadful iron curtain holding the
line?
On paper, where football is so
often played in peoples’ minds, it is a decent collection of players. There is
a promising young French player with caps for his national U20 side in
Sebastien Faure, an experienced Brazilian who has played most of his career in
Serie A in Emilson Cribari, SPL regular Ross Perry, and Scotland
international Lee Wallace. While in and out of the side, Chris Hegarty and Anestis
Argyriou also come from a good stable so it is clear to see that the selection
McCoist has to choose from, particularly at division 3, is not too bad at all.
There is SPL experience there,
there are also the ‘expectations’ of playing for Rangers drilled into most of
these players. There are also players who have come from a higher level,
particularly Cribari, and of course a player who covers all 3 in Lee Wallace.
So, theoretically, it is a sound
backline. It just never works out that way on the pitch. Marking is all over
the place, there is no communication, the offside trap is almost never properly
sprung, and critically, there is no leader.
Let us look at these briefly in
turn; marking. The basic purpose is to stick close to a designated target and
stop him. And yet how many times do opposition players wander free in the box
and stick one happily past Neil Alexander? Particularly at set-pieces, such as,
specifically, corners, the marking and defending barely qualifies under those
words. Last night was another woeful attempt at resistance from an in-swinger.
Then communication. Supposedly
Cribari does speak English, but I can honestly say I have never seen him open
his mouth on the pitch, far less talk. Argyriou at right back looks thoroughly
confused as to which country he is in, and there is no doubting that Lee
Wallace, Chris Hegarty and Ross Perry are absolutely useless at keeping each
other ‘in line’. Honest professionals but vocally poor on the pitch.
The offside trap is a damning
example. The most sure sign of an organised defence is one which can spring the
offside trap consistently. It is not an easy discipline, but get it right and
counter-attacks can be repelled time and time again. It rarely happens with
this backline, supporting the idea of poor communication and organisation.
And lastly, maybe the most
important one, and related to organisation; there is no one leader. There is no
single dominating voice which instructs others and keeps fellow defenders in
check. Last season Carlos Bocanegra was doing this job well, but in the third
division before he left even he struggled.
Maybe we can chalk that down to uncertainty over his future, because nothing
has changed regardless of who has come in.
Every combination of defenders
has let the club down. The much-lauded victory over Motherwell at Ibrox was
only achieved because Black, MacLeod, Hutton et al in the middle of the park
dominated the game and prevented the Steelmen getting near the backline often.
Had McCall’s men pressed hard against Cribari and co, that one could have
worked out very differently.
So how to fix this? With the
embargo in place until the next window, this clutch of defenders is all McCoist
has. With consistent communication issues and total lack of organisation, it cannot
be solved by signing a few new players. It will not cost the club the league
title, but it will cost many more goals and some more dropped points. The best
solution the boss has is to appoint a defence captain – an official leader at
the back. Someone who can be relied upon to take what drills have been learned
in training (assuming any have) and effect them in the match.
The only contender for this role
is Lee Wallace – as the best defender at the club, and a Scotland
international, his experience is vital. He might not be known for his vocal
skills, but if he does not take on this role and work hard at perfecting it,
the defence will continue to bleed.
Rangers need a leader at the
back. In order to make sure all the other components are engaged, one man has
to enforce it. Without that, it all falls apart, as we can see taking place,
time and time again.
Time for the defence to stop
resting.