Monday, 5 August 2019

Have Rangers helped or hindered their title hunt? -Opinion

The morning after the afternoon before, and Rangers fans wake up to their first win at Rugby Park in the league since 2011.

How do we assess the overall start Rangers made to the season in Kilmarnock?

The first clear benchmark to aim for is this was absolutely the first test of the season. Forget all the friendlies and the European lightweights, this season opener is already one of the four hardest matches of the season out of the way. No team has taken more from Rangers at home than Kilmarnock recently, bar the obvious, and to begin with arresting that slide is huge.

Already, Rangers have taken the same amount points from Rugby Park in one match as they took from there in total in the league since October 2017. Almost two years.

Many have tried to downplay the gravity of this win by arguing Rangers were poor, and that Kilmarnock, humiliated in Europe by Welsh minnows, are currently horrific with no Steve Clarke to guide them – so can we remind them that in the previous five league meetings prior to his appointment, Rangers secured only one win. It wasn’t just Steve Clarke, Kilmarnock were an outright bogey team whoever their manager was.

So that is significant.

The further positive is that it gets Rangers off on the front foot – an opening season win for only the second time since promotion. The only other manager to get Rangers off to 3 points was Pedro’s hapless side – and they were a lot, lot worse at Fir Park in 2017 than Rangers were yesterday.

There are, of course, drawbacks. Rangers’ performance v Alessio’s side certainly wasn’t convincing – a number of players, especially the summer signings, failed to impress, and regular stalwarts like James Tavernier and Steven Davis did not perform their best by some distance.

Kilmarnock could indeed have won this match for better finishing, and Rangers’ defence looks frail – Steven Gerrard ruined the Katic Goldson duo by breaking it up last season, and now it has no chemistry at all.

And while Rangers had a lot of the ball, it lacked purpose, penetration and concise patterns. There appeared a lack of tactical approach in this match, with the aim being pass to death and try to feed the flanks.

But while these are more than nitpicks, the end result is the part that matters.

Rangers took three points in the kind of match they wouldn’t have last season. Indeed, they didn’t.

But Gerrard needs to get a settled XI and a consistent and effective tactic – and it doesn’t get an ounce easier on Saturday when Paul Heckingbottom’s strong-fancied Hibs come to Ibrox.

If Rangers come through that one with another 3 points, it’s already the best start to an SPL season since promotion. But in 2017 Hibs were the second opponent too and won at Ibrox so we’ll take nothing for granted.

We’re not saying the start is promising, but equally while our title hopes were doused a little by the quality of performance at Rugby Park, it wasn’t completely put out. Celtic made a statement, but we don’t need to make a statement to win a title.

Just win games. Keep doing that, however we do it, and we’re in with a shout.

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