When it comes to picking the cream of the crop of Rangers’ recent player performances, it is a rich plunder. With Lee Wallace regaining form over the past few matches, and Kenny Miller’s exquisite and hard-working graft in midfield particularly noticeable, it is a great choice of the most impressive recent individual, with Lee Hodson, Jason Holt and all three of the defenders who have played also managing to raise their games significantly. Not to mention Joe Garner’s warrior-like domination of Rangers’ front line.
But for me, there is one other player whose standards have absolutely hiked of late, and whose management by Mark Warburton has managed to curtail his dismal form this season and restore the old self impressively; that man is Barrie McKay.
A long-time favourite of IbroxNoise, it broke our collective hearts to see a genuinely talented player struggle with the SPL after such a colossal breakthrough season under Warburton in the Championship last term, and when Warbs dropped him from first team affairs a number of weeks ago, it was for McKay’s own good.
He selected Michael O’Halloran in McKay’s place, shifting Kenny Miller to the left while O’Halloran adopted his more familiar right wing slot, and while O’Halloran initially grabbed his chance with both hands, his form too tailed off and he became predictable.
Indeed, following the dismal loss at Hampden to Celtic, McKay found himself benched, being utilised only as a sub and not coming on in every match. And every time he was not used as a sub only forced the lad to buckle down more and prove he deserved to both come on, and to start.
And McKay, it has to be said, handled his demotion impeccably – he did not moan, nor complain, and he admits his form was poor:
“It has been great to come back into the starting line-up, I have probably not played my best football at the start of the season and I have been criticised quite a lot but I think today I answered those critics.”
And Warburton managed it well. McKay earned his place back, through sheer hard work, and is currently on arguably the best run of displays he has had since making his break through all those years back at Brechin’s hedge.
He has played as well as this before, but not against this quality of opposition, and that is the difference. His decimation of Aberdeen’s full backs was a joy to behold; yes, the final ball was lacking in that one, but his dribbling and link up play were first class, as they were against struggling Ian Cathro’s dismal Hearts. And again he was probably the best player on the pitch in Hamilton.
There has even been talk of a multimillion pound offer from various English sides, with Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa said to be keeping close tabs on him in particular, but Rangers will not want to sell a player in the form of his life.
That said, Warbs is savvy enough to know everyone has their price, and a big enough offer will undeniably prise him away.
Hopefully that does not transpire, and McKay continues to tear up defences like he has recently. A word too, again, for Warburton. This site, as many in the comments have alluded to, has been one of the gaffer’s biggest critics. He deserved that criticism, with one of the main complaints levelled at him being his refusal to alter his system. Well he has relented now, and has changed things, and it is working – so we criticise for his errors, and praise for the things he gets right. Fair, correct? And his handling of McKay’s form loss was also on the money. He dropped him, used him sparingly, let him get a rest, a breath, and his hunger back – and it has worked superbly.
We are not completely won over by Warburton yet, there is a long way to go – a few comments suggest we should wait till the end of the season before truly judging, and that is probably fair, but in the meantime as football fans we will be as upset as the rest of you when things go badly, and as happy as Larry when they go well.
We will call as we see.
And we see Barrie McKay’s return to form, and it is thoroughly welcome.