It might not have been the romanticised and cliched ‘last dance’, for there was no real glory at the end of the 90 minutes, but Saturday’s thumping victory over Celtic at least injected some optimism into a support that has been longingly looking to the summer and the curtain falling on this particular team’s era at Rangers.
And boy was it overdue.
The game may not have meant anything in the grand scheme of things and nor did either side line up with their strongest XI but the increase in aggression and organisation was enough to secure the victory and finally send fans home with a smile rather than a frown. The fact we didn’t blow our own feet off was also a new and welcome approach to this fixture. We would do well to continue that going forward.
Having lost cup matches that delivered silverware & season-defining games there will certainly be no gloating or over celebrating from me. It’s important to take the win in the context in which it was achieved but that doesn’t mean disregarding it or pretending there is nothing positive that can be taken from the result and performance. There clearly is.
As a team there was a bite and aggression fuelled by the rocking atmosphere that unsettled a Celtic team that have too often been in our faces and intimidated us. Players snapped into tackles and refused to sit off their direct opponents and they didn’t like it one bit. . We pressed and were brave in doing so high up the pitch instead of sitting deep and waiting for their breakthrough. Beale’s choice of a combative midfield trio initially raised questions but in hindsight it was exactly what was needed. And they were rewarded for their endeavours.
Once ahead in the game courtesy of Todd Cantwell, the best player on the pitch, the team reverted into an organised and compact shape with Matondo and Sakala lining up alongside the former Norwich star to prevent Celtic playing through the middle of the park. It was reminiscent of the 2-0 victory under Gerrard at Ibrox when we allowed Celtic to control the ball but safe in the knowledge that we were in control of the space. The fact that McCrorie only had to make one save was evidence of our success in this regard.
This sort of shape & structure has been something many fans expected when Beale returned but constantly gifting freakishly bad goals and chasing games perhaps hasn’t allowed for it to be evident all that often. But Saturday was a sign that he still has that in his locker. We were confident in the shape and individual roles and our third goal came from forcing an error & pressuring the ball in the opposition half.
Individually too there were clear positives:
- McCrorie looked confident and assured throughout, collecting crosses and rushing out for through balls as well as making one excellent save to keep his 100% clean sheet record intact
- Ridvan Yilmaz was dynamic, always positive, forward-looking and showed that despite his diminutive stature he can actually defend
- Nicolas Raskin was chosen as the deepest of the midfielders, the 6, ahead of Lundstrum and Jack who normally feature there and he was excellent. He covered the ground tenaciously, snapped at ankles and was tidy in possession
- Todd Cantwell. What else can I say? Man of the match, gallus, scored, tackled, controlled the press. He was everywhere and was head and shoulders above every other player on the pitch.
The above is key, not because of the match itself, but because all of the above could be very important as the club now seeks to revamp and improve for next season. They give us a foundation and platform upon which we can build with the likes of Tav and Goldson providing the experience and leadership. That doesn’t mean big changes aren’t required, just that we do have a few players we can actually work with going forward with the January additions of Cantwell and Raskin representing our best transfer window for some time.
On the back of a campaign defined by regression and disappointment – one that has seen Celtic almost certainly secure a treble – Saturday was a rare moment of enjoyment and one that we’re quite entitled to be happy about, even if it is tempered by the bigger picture that has unfolded.
It’s alright saying it was a meaningless game but when losing it would have seen enormous pressure mount on the manager and another psychological scar inflicted on this team then I’m not sure it’s fair to characterise the match as completely irrelevant. Similar victories under Gerrard, like the one cited above, may have meant little in that particular league season but they were important to lay down a marker, provide some belief and show that Celtic are not unbeatable.
Michael Beale must surely now have a clear picture of what is required to take the remnants of this side from poor challengers to worthy champions. I just hope he has the budget to achieve it. There are clear areas that lack quality and his job is to now identify and sign players who can drive that positive change and form a team worthy of the jersey they wear.
In truth there hasn’t been much between the games in general play in the most recent matches. That’s not to say there isn’t a gap of course but simply by cutting out ridiculous schoolboy errors we’ve shown that it’s not one that is impossible to overcome. But we do need more quality upfront. Saturday was a victory in spite of that glaring deficiency and it’s a weakness we must address this summer or face a re-run of too many recent campaigns.
We are entitled to enjoy Saturday’s win for what it was but equally it cannot be allowed to alter the now well established reality that this particular Rangers team is done and that a serious upgrade is needed in terms of quality. But in a season of dark clouds I think we are allowed to enjoy a small ray of light shining through.
One thought on “Tempered Optimism”
We need to sign at least one if not two twenty to twenty five goals per season strikers we really need a strong strike presence upfront.