As the 2015 draws to a close and managers draw up their transfer window shopping lists, Rangers find themselves in a mini-slump in the race for the Scottish Championship.
A haul of five points from a possible 12 has seen Hibs draw level with Mark Warburton’s side. Draws with Livingston and Morton, followed by a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Falkirk, could see the Easter Road men leapfrog the Gers and go into 2016 with a three-point lead at the top of the table when the sides meet on Monday at a sold out Ibrox.
After the game I don’t think many Rangers fans were too surprised with the scoreline at the Falkirk Stadium and the Bairns were simply more clinical than their visitors, making their limited chances count.
Rangers, not for the first time this season, were far too patient in their approach play and looked more than happy to play retain possession without it ever really having any real attacking threat. Falkirk ‘keeper Danny Rogers, on loan from Aberdeen, had a good game and made a few good stops to keep his side ahead, although his opposite number had to be alert on a number of occasions to stop the Bairns extending their lead.
Then there was the penalty decision for Falkirk. I’ve already made it clear that they were the better side and deserved to win so please don’t take this as sour grapes but the decision by Willie Collum (Scotland’s refereeing representative at the 2016 European Championships in France) to give Falkirk a penalty for a foul which was clearly outside the box will take a long, long time for someone to explain. Of course, this being Scotland, Mr. Collum was punished for making such a poor decision by being chosen to referee a televised game next week. It’s almost as ridiculous a decision as the one made at the Falkirk Stadium.
Looking forward, the Hibs game on December 28th now takes on massive importance going into the new year. Mark Warburton has shown a steadfast refusal to move his favoured tactics, however, there’s now a few questions beginning to be asked about the selection and tactical decisions being made.
Over the last few weeks there have been growing calls for Gedion Zelalem to be dropped and replaced with Nicky Law, whilst some would like to see the team revert to playing a 4-4-2 and called into question the starting places of almost all of the players.
However, despite the recent drop in results, I don’t think there is any need at all for wholesale changes to the side or the tactics but I do think there needs to be some tweaks made to recapture that early season form. The front three, particularly the two wide players, need to contribute more defensively and press the opposition much more regularly. Putting opposition defenders under pressure before they can get the ball into the middle of the park and cutting off the passing options higher up the pitch will make it harder for teams to sit in and allow Rangers to play passes around in front of a packed defence.
There also needs to be more urgency in Rangers’ play. Despite regularly racking up possession on the other side of 60%, the team struggle to break sides down who sit in and look to hit them with counter attacking football. Too often the players look to pass the ball instead taking a defender on or even taking a shot, leading to a recent post on the RangersMedia forum titled “Shoot!” which had, at least, one user left disappointed after expecting another of yours truly’s blogs.
Now that John Eustace definitely isn’t signing and Andy Halliday can’t also be the back-up for Andy Halliday, Mark Warburton will have a conundrum on his hands when the transfer window. Does he keep Andy Murdoch after the midfielder returns from his loan spell at Cowdenbeath and let him compete with Jordan Thompson for a seat on the bench? He could use Dom Ball or Rob Kiernan as back up to Halliday. Or he could even bring someone else in who to play in that position and use Halliday elsewhere.
If the manager decides to bring a fresh face in then he could do much worse than look at Falkirk’s Will Vaulks. The young Englishman can play a number of positions in midfield or defence and has been a stand-out in Peter Houston’s side. Despite being only 22 he has made over 100 appearances for the Bairns and has attracted attention from clubs both sides of the border. He’s far from the finished article but he is a player who would fit comfortably into the current style at Ibrox. A sharp passer and strong tackler, Vaulks could slot comfortably into the role currently held by Halliday, who could be used to much greater effect further forward. He played a big part in helping Falkirk to last season’s Scottish Cup final and looks to have a bright future ahead of him.
Finally, since this is my last blog of 2015 I’d just like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and to say thank you for reading throughout the past 12 months. I look forward to speaking to you all in 2016.