The 60 million or so UK citizens who chose not to make their way to the national stadium on Saturday made the right decision, because this was a dreadful game of football between two sides who, on this evidence, will be contesting the wooden spoon instead of fighting for play-off spots at the season’s climax.The 501 hardy souls who had to endure 90 minutes of footballing purgatory probably spent the rest of their weekend trying to banish the match from their memory.
Four points from 12 in what was a relatively unchallenging set of opening fixtures is some way below pre-season expectations, and the sprinkling of boos from the away support as Rangers left the pitch suggest that patience is already wearing thin amongst the hardcore who found themselves on the road again for the seventh time in eight fixtures. Rangers finished fifth in 2009/10 and sixth in 2010/11 so the board, recognising that progress is essential this season, have backed the management team of Jimmy Crease and Ian Little by giving them the resources to put together the best squad at Shielfield for several years. The current squad is arguably stronger than John Coughlin’s championship winning team, so supporters are justified in asking why the Gers’ league form to date has been so disappointing, and in particular, why the lack of width in midfield and the absence of an on-field leader have still not been addressed.
The lack of width in Rangers’ game was evident throughout this match, when ample possession frequently ended up being fed back for the centre halves to boot hopefully towards the Spiders’ penalty area. For their part, Queens Park, widely tipped for a top three spot after making the play-offs last season, were abysmal in the opening 45 minutes on Saturday and looked ripe for the taking. After taking a deserved early lead, Rangers should have kicked on and killed the game off before half time, which any decent side playing with confidence would have done, but a second goal rarely looked likely. The fact that Darren Gribben got his first touch of the ball in the 11th minute speaks volumes for Rangers’s lack of penetration against a supine home side.
In mitigation, a tough schedule of two matches a week, including three cup ties against teams from higher leagues, looks to have taken its toll on a tired looking Black & Gold, while Paul Currie’s spell in full-time training with Hamilton has left him looking knackered and a pale shadow of the best attacking midfielder in the Third Division. With a return to a one match a week schedule, Rangers can take a breather and that should help them on their journey to discovering some consistency of form.
Rangers featured three changes from the Hibs cup tie, Gribben partnering the in-form McLaren up front and Stevie Notman making his first full start of the season. He went on to produce an excellent performance despite his midfield protection going missing for long periods, and reinforced the hope that he will be restored as first choice right back. The match took some time to warm up, though Rangers enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening period. The first real chance arrived in the 16th minute, McDonald scraping a low 18 yard shot a couple of feet wide of Parry’s goal after a neat lay off by Gribben. McDonald did even better three minutes later, pouncing on a loose headed clearance to volley past Parry from 20 yards out. The goal looked like a cue for Rangers to get the game won before the break, but after taking the lead they retreated into a keep ball mentality but rarely threatened, though McLaren worked hard to give his midfield a target.
The Spiders created their first chance ten minutes from the break, Burns curling a free kick narrowly wide after Lee Currie committed a foul on the edge of Barclay’s area. Rangers were uncharacteristically late emerging from their half time team talk. Whatever Jimmy Crease said to them, I’m pretty certain it didn’t involve telling them to switch off and sleepwalk into the second half. Which is precisely what they did. From kick off, they defended dopily, allowing Longworth to collect a short pass from Anderson and shoot straight at the grateful Barclay. Five minutes later, McLaren broke down the right, combining his attacking duties with providing some desperately needed width, only for Gribben to bullet his pinpoint cross wide when he should have hit the target. Once they’d shaken off their surprise at still being in the game, the Spiders finally woke up. Gribben lost possession just outside the Spiders penalty area, allowing the pacy Sean Burns to get in behind Notman. The winger fired over a peach of a cross which Daly buried beyond Barclay on the hour mark. Burns and Daly repeated the trick nine minutes later but this time the front man miskicked from near the penalty spot. Despite replacing an off-colour Gribben with Noble and a hobbling Paul Currie with Walker, Rangers never threatened again, though they had a lucky escape in the 90th minute when Quinn sent a free header straight into Barclay’s hands.A point away from home against the team that finished fourth last season is not to be sniffed at, but the quality of Rangers’ performance, coming on the back of disappointing efforts at Elgin and Stranraer, is cause for concern.
The league campaign takes a back seat when Livingston come visiting on Ramsdens cup duty next Sunday. Many supporters would like to see Andy McLean restored to the defence where his dynamism is badly missed, though a more pressing concern must be getting the midfield functioning. Rangers have good players. The challenge is to get them producing good performances in the league. They can do it, as Partick and Dumbarton can testify.
Barclay 7; Notman 8; Townsley 5; McLeod 5; Thompson 4; Greenhill 4; P Currie 4; L Currie 5; McDonald 6; Gribben 4; McLaren 7
Crowd – 501