Ian Cathro’s appointment at Tynecastle set the cat among the pigeons in the anals of the SPFL. Opinion was divided over it, ranging from ‘too young’ to ‘progressive signing’ to ‘out of his depth’.
The latter can be mostly attributed to Kris Boyd, whose controversial ‘newspaper’ column gave Hearts’ new manager some of the most merciless criticism one is likely to witness in a national publication, and even yours truly distanced himself from that scathing attack, affording Cathro more respect than the ex-Rangers striker was willing to.
Going by today’s display and result, Boyd was not only bang on, but a lot of people in Scottish football and beyond owe him a genuine apology for the insults they threw at him as a result of his piece.
However, before anyone suggests I am prioritising Hearts’ fallibilities over Rangers’ strengths today, I must assure you I am not – Mark Warburton, for the second match in a row, got his selection and formation dead on, and showed a continuing (and thoroughly welcome) willingness to change his favoured 4:3:3 to something I did not believe would truly work, but which showed cunning, intelligence, originality and a desire to take a risk; Warbs went with 4:1:4:1 with Halliday holding and a midfield which included Kenny Miller and the surprise selection of James Tavernier.
It worked exquisitely. Miller’s hard graft all over the pitch was based in a central slot – the ex-Scotland international helped defence, his colleagues in the middle, and got up top too. For a 36 year old man, he seems to have a renewed vigour in his game, and Warbs’ slotting him in centrally has given Miller a completely new lease of life, akin to when Ryan Giggs went into defensive midfield for Man Utd all those years ago under Sir Alex’s machine at Old Trafford. Giggs showed a side to his game no one knew existed, having plied his trade in Manchester on the wings, till age caught up with him.
Well Miller is benefitting from this, and so is Rangers’ midfield. The other masterstroke was that four man dynamic midfield which saw the unexpected inclusion of Tavernier – he fitted perfectly, and swapped regularly with McKay in terms of flank, which stopped Paterson and co being able to predict who was coming and when.
A word for McKay – his painful loss of form until recent weeks has been well managed by Warburton; this site praised the Hat for dropping McKay and replacing him with O’Halloran. Well, McKay has had a real kick up his backside as a result of this, and while the nevertheless impressive Jason Holt was MOTM (as chosen by a supporter who won a charity auction recently), mine was McKay. He absolutely tore a new one at Hearts’ back and whoever was taking him on at any given moment just could not handle him. His best match of the season by far; McKay has had to prove himself all over again and he is starting to do that now. And credit to Warburton for getting him to raise his game.
But, and you knew there was one, however good Rangers were (Kiernan and Wilson were solid as marble, and Hodson and Wallace strolled today), it was aided a bit by Hearts being quite ghastly.
While Rangers started well, Hearts simply did not. The players did not look like they were playing for their manager, and Cathro could do nothing at half time to change it. He looked like a lost lamb and truly justified Rangers’ rejection of him as our manager. I defended him robustly, and some types in Scottish football really did get outraged over the likes of Boyd being so harsh, and while it was only his debut, from a Hearts’ perspective it was deeply worrying. They did not fight, they did not communicate, and Rangers ran them ragged. Warburton absolutely decimated Cathro today, with not even ‘a first match under the new manager’ boost helping the Gorgie side look enthused.
Back to football manager?
However from a Rangers point of view the changed formation, the improving Robbie Kiernan, the continuing selection of Hodson – my worries about last week being temporary were unfounded – at the moment, right now; this Rangers team is playing like one.
Finally Warburton seems to be starting to grasp the SPL. If this is to continue for the majority, and Rangers are to finish solidly in second place, no one will be happier to have been wrong about his credentials at this level than I.
Good job all round.