A More Bonney Display in Sacramento

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After my last blog sounded the
premature death knell on Rangers’ title/promotion aspirations next season,
there was definitely the distinct stench of slight over reaction.
Yes, this was a truly ghastly
display against woeful opponents, but the lineup was thoroughly experimental
and pre-season is the time to make these kinds of mistakes. While we cannot
strictly forgive multimillionaires being trashed 3-1 by college graduates, we
can observe the match for the unimportance it represented in the grand scheme of
things.
As I proclaimed in my last piece,
you learn more in defeat than victory, and sure enough in the UK wee small hours, Rangers visited Bonney Field
in Sacramento
to meet home side Republic with a far more suitable lineup and formation.
From the inexplicable tactical
approach v Ventura,
Ally McCoist adopted a considerably more conventional 4-4-2 for this one. And
while the opponents were not exactly Bayern Munchen and Rangers themselves
hardly played like Real Madrid, there was
nevertheless a noticeable
improvement.
Super set out Bell, behind a back four of Foster, Zaliukas,
Moshni and Wallace, with Templeton on the right wing and MacLeod on the left as
Nicky Law and Lee McCulloch completed central midfield. Up front were the
trusty old warhorses Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller.
There were a number of key
observations to make in this match, and I will outline them now:
1: Our best central defence is
Marius Zaliukas and Darren McGregor (who replaced Mohsni in the second half).
It is absolutely no coincidence that some of the most solid the rearguard has
looked in pre-season has been when these two have paired.
2: Bilel Mohsni has thoroughly
deteriorated since those bright first few months at Ibrox. He is strong,
commanding, good in the air and composed on the ball, but he is bitterly let
down by complacency, laziness, careless passing and a woeful lack of
concentration. These negative traits undo the good work of the positive ones.
Rangers confirmed a second bid from Abu Dhabian side Baniyas Sports Club had
been rejected for the French Tunisian. Going by his terminal decline since
around October last year it might be worth accepting. His performance v
Republic was all the worst elements of his playing style rolled into a single
display and the term ‘bombscare’ is beginning to apply.
3: Lee McCulloch is invulnerable.
He will always play no matter what. He could be described as a kind of
insurance policy where McCoist sees Jig as himself on the pitch, a piece of the
Club before administration tore so much of it apart. Consequently Rangers fans
have to accept he is a starter, and that is the way it is staying. Sadly
instead of the defence being the part of the team he ruins, now it is midfield.
For this match Lewis MacLeod was the victim of accommodation, and while he has
played left wing before, it is hardly getting the best out of him.
4: The Boyd Miller partnership
looks as smooth now as it did back in the day. Yes, Boyd’s finishing was
abysmal in Sacramento
but he is getting in the right places to have the chances. Just needs sharpness
back. Meanwhile Miller’s movement remains impeccable. It is not a ridiculous
suggestion to make that these two are the best strikers in Scotland.
Especially as one was joint second top scorer in the SPL last season and the other
continued his fine career at a more than respectable level in the MLS for
Vancouver Whitecaps before his return to Ibrox.
5: And last but not least, the
4-4-2 quite simply remains this team’s best formation. If Templeton can gain
consistency then he is quite happy on the right wing, while young Barrie McKay
is a surefire candidate for the left. But…if McCulloch plays midfield it will
be Lewis MacLeod on the left.
As the final whistle blew in California, a late Ian
Black poaching effort sealed the win for Rangers, 2-1 over their hosts, and
American Bears went home happy while UK-based ones got some well-earned sleep
at near-6AM.
The team is not completely
finished – there is still a lack of a really convincing defensive midfielder,
with the only existing candidates Black, Arnold Peralta and Kyle Hutton, while
McCulloch is another. None make the grade unless Black can keep up his
August-November level for the entire season.
And right back is also an issue
for contention. Foster, Sebastien Faure and Kyle McAusland are the main three
candidates but while fans favour McAusland whose star shone so brightly during
the infamous ‘trialist’ period last season, McCoist favours a 50/50 between
Foster and Faure, who made a very similar number of appearances last season
each.
There is clearly work to be done.
But I will say this. The signs
were a hell of a lot better in Sacramento than
they were in Ventura.