So it’s the afternoon after the… afternoon before, and Rangers fans have now properly watched our side in serious competitive action for the first time of the new season.
And what did we make of it? Can it be judged? Is it too early? Who cares! We’re Rangers fans and we’ll always have an opinion of everything Ibrox be it the Champions League final or Andy Halliday v Borna Barisic at tiddlywinks.
Here’s your Ibrox Noise assessment of the opening competitive match of the new season.
The lineup was pretty much as we’d suggested – we were a little surprised at both changes, in the case of Jermain Defoe ahead of Greg Stewart and Ryan Jack over both Docherty and Aribo, but Jack had an especially impressive game and that selection justified itself. Defoe was less standout, and we do wonder what Stewart’s movement and drive might have brought – not that it really matters in light of the result.
But what of the shape?
The defence was back to the classic Goldson and Katic duo, which will be happy with its clean sheet. Katic was caught flatfooted once, with little help from an out of position Barisic, but aside that and a poor clearing header which set up a St Joseph’s volley, he will be happy with his contribution while Goldson didn’t really do much to gain attention either way. Katic also notably advanced further up the pitch – this is a nod to his defensive midfield duties at Slaven Balupo where the one-time Croat cap was known to hold the midfield occasionally – and he did it well yesterday, supporting midfield and providing a platform for the forward 6 to attack.
Fullback was interesting – James Tavernier was clearly not quite match sharp yet, and seemed stodgy and slow to linkup – he missed Daniel Candeias or a winger he had understanding with, and the crosses were non-existent while he struggled to get behind defence much at all.
On the other side Borna Barisic defended well bar that one lapse, and got forward in polished support without being rampant. His assist for Jack’s opener and freekick for the third were simply sumptuous and a strong glimpse of the international player that he can be for his country. His corners were slow to get going, with a few misfires before he opted for deeper and then found the wind ruining the flight. But the crossing got better the further the match advanced and slowly but surely at this rate Barisic can be the LB Steven Gerrard signed. We will also give him dispensation for the artificial surface which he is known to legendarily hate.
Midfield was strong. One lazy pass aside, Glen Kamara was excellent and swapped positions with others a lot – he was strong and composed deeper in midfield, dynamic and mobile in the centre, and quick and astute with the ball in attack. In short, a very impressive display if not a spectacular one. He found himself on the edge of the box a lot feeding a regularly overlapping Jordan Jones or Borna Barisic, and Kamara found Steven Davis’ influence to be extremely calming. The NI man was quietly solid – it was a slow first half, and both he and Kamara were a part of that (the latter was admittedly a touch quiet in the first 45) but he kept the middle organised and is becoming a real leader. Kamara and Jack look up to him a great deal, and Jack indeed benefited from his presence. The newly-attacking midfielder revelled in selection and scored one stunning goal while losing out on another via offside. His performance suggested he’s really up for the fight of competition, and that’s what a side like Rangers needs.
Up front Jordan Jones and Sheyi Ojo appeared to swap position a few times, with Jones curiously on the right. The NI international tried too hard to start with and struggled to influence the game, getting a fair bit of the ball but not really using it too well, but as the game wore on and opened up he got more joy and became more of a threat.
Ojo, on the other hand, mostly on the right or through the middle, was a threat from the first whistle, and has fit into this team like a glove – his goal and his all-round play was venomous, showing exceptional pace and trickery to be a constant menace. Gerrard nailed this selection and signing and he’s currently Rangers’ most dangerous player.
Last but not least Jermain Defoe was tidy but not effective – he used his body reasonably well but was unable to have a major impact – through on goal he was well blocked, while also giving away a really poor yellow card. His withdrawal on 63 was no real shock.
It’s interesting of course that Rangers didn’t miss the influence of either Scott Arfield or Alfredo Morelos – the latter was solid when he came on, and looked threatening, but by then the game was already well beyond the home side. That said, Joe Aribo failed to have the impact as a sub that we’re still waiting on him showing. The aggression and attacking power we believe he has is as yet conspicuous by its absence and we don’t think he’s settled anything like the likes of Ojo or even Jones have. Jack was more impressive in his position, and Docherty too has looked superior in pre-season.
Of course, Aribo has a lot of time to get up to speed, and we certainly hope he does, and we know some players settle way quicker than others – but he doesn’t actually look yet like the kind of player we thought he was. In Ryan Kent’s case, for example, he looked like the classic winger but just not one who understood Rangers or his team mates at the time – he grew into that, but his position and style were obvious. We’re less clear on Aribo’s position – is he a bustling dynamic midfielder? Box to box? AM? Central? Nothing in either of his performances yet makes that overly clear and we’ll hope to see him blend in and show his qualities in good time.
Overall Steven Gerrard can be very pleased with how his men navigated an artificial surface as the first serious match of 2019/20. He set his men up to dominate the ball, and while St Joseph’s are only part-timers, so were Lincoln Red Imps and Progres were even worse. So that counts for nothing at this level.
It was a good start – an admittedly laboured slow start in the first half without a lot of penetration, and one or two minor scares at the back, but good midfield domination and plenty of flank play, especially on the left, helped Rangers take the match to St Joseph’s and while the first goal took a bit too long, once it was there, it was a stroll for the visitors.
There will be harder tests this season, but then we said that pre-split last time out, and the new system strolled its way, Killie aside, to a super strong finish.
Here’s hoping this season has started as it means to continue.