Rangers’ start to season 2015/2016 has been nothing short of mesmerising. Flowing, attacking football, an abundance of goals and, until last night, only six conceded shows just the level of impact Mark Warburton has had since taking the reins in Govan.
Naturally, nothing lasts forever, and the new boss finally tasted defeat for the first time at Ibrox when St Johnstone came to Glasgow and put Rangers out of the League Cup.
With that ‘unbeaten’ tag now gone, and that 100% start going likewise, how do we assess last night’s capitulation at the hands of the Saints?
The warning signs had been there since the rather unimpressive win over Livingston; this site had alerted its readers to the curiously flat displays in both that and the trip to Dumbarton, with various theories being posited as to why performance had dipped.
Whatever the cause, it manifested itself rather starkly when a vastly superior side in the form of Tommy Wright’s men visited Ibrox and left with progress to the next round.
So what exactly went wrong for Rangers?
I am no Mark Warburton, nor do I profess to be a keyboard manager like an FM player, so take my comments like you will anyone else’s with a pinch of salt;
The first glaring problem was the omission of the reborn Barrie McKay. Warburton attributed this to giving him a rest, but the flank missed his pace. None of Kenny Miller, Martyn Waghorn or Nathan Oduwa are especially blessed with raw sprint speed, and that told.
The second was something I touched upon even in the win over Raith – guilty of overplaying. Sometimes Rangers seem to want to walk the ball into the net – it is beautiful to watch but up against a defence like Dumbarton or St Johnstone it struggles to have impact. There is no point in zig-zag play against a crowd of 6ft-tall defenders.
The third was naïve tactics; I will likely be slaughtered for this, but it is my contention Warburton’s defensive setup was far too high – two slow central defenders in Wilson and Kiernan were just flat footed and frankly caught repeatedly because Rangers played an incredibly high defensive line (as they have all season in truth) and against a team of St Johnstone’s quality it was suicidal. The backline needed to be a touch deeper to give our CBs time to assess attacks.
Of course, it is all a learning curve, including for Warburton. Lest we forget, he has been a manager for barely two years, and he too will make mistakes. One note of praise is that no matter how bad it got last night, no one hid. There were varying levels of performances all round, but not a single jersey in blue ducked out of responsibility – everyone kept at it till the final whistle and that was good to see.
These players also now know exactly what is required to win in the SPL (assuming promotion) – few who started last night had experience of the SPL beyond Lee Wallace, Kenny Miller & Danny Wilson, and they have probably all forgotten it has been so long.
Last night was a crucial lesson in the development of Mark Warburton’s Rangers. The Magic Hat now knows the SPL next season will require massive improvement all round, and as long as he and the players keep making the progress they are, these learning experiences will be some of the most vital moments under him.
You do learn more in defeat than victory.