Rangers Need To Concentrate On Securing Second Place!

Ibrox Front

Just before the Old Firm game last weekend, I was at a bar telling a few Rangers fans that their team didn’t have much hope in beating Celtic at Parkhead in their forthcoming encounter. I was roundly jeered and told that I was talking rubbish.

They cried ‘Look at the Scottish Cup semi-final!’ ‘What about Celtic’s horrible record away in Europe?’ and ‘Rangers are going to come up with the goods at the right time!’

Now I could have easily pointed out that Rangers have been in a steady decline since that semi-final win on penalties, that Celtic were the home team in the Old Firm clash and that there was zero proof that the Gers could turn up and give a much better display than they had done in their previous Scottish Premiership fixtures so far this season.

But instead I just pointed out that Celtic had an extremely pacy and lethal attack and that Rangers had a sloppy and somewhat slow defence. That was always enough for me to know that Celtic held all the aces coming into that game. They were confident and were looking to avenge that cup loss from earlier this year.

Now it actually panned out a lot worse for Rangers than I was expecting. I thought that the Hoops would gain a comfortable win by a two goal margin. Obviously Celtic were clinical and in no mood to stop at just a two goal advantage.

In truthfulness maybe that’s what the Gers team and the fans needed… A dose of realism.

Many a supporter and even boss Mark Warburton has stated the intention of challenging Celtic for the league title this year. But I doubt that’s actually possible this season.

In the summer Celtic refreshed their team and they’re no longer the stale identity that they had become under previous manager Ronny Deila. They showed ambition by going out and getting former Liverpool gaffer Brendan Rodgers and have allowed him to spend on rebuilding his squad. He’s bought well and players like Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele will no doubt continue to shine in Scotland.

Now they are far from the finished article, Tuesday nights 7-0 thumping at Barcelona proves that. Even in their away games in the Premiership so far, Celtic have looked nervy at times and that could be a glimmer of hope for the challengers.

But let’s not underestimate the task in hand, Celtic have played four leagues matches so far and have won them all. Three of those came against Aberdeen, Hearts and Rangers the sides that are meant to be their closest challengers. In those opening encounters the champions have scored fifteen and conceded five. Plus they are already top of the pile, while also having a game in hand. They have the momentum and will be hard to catch.

Rangers need to evaluate the situation properly and focus on being the best of the rest and securing European football for next season. Obviously challenging for the cup competitions should be a priority too.

But they can’t underestimate the challenge that lies in front of them in securing second spot.

After five games each; Hearts are already two points in front of the Ibrox side and the Dons are just two points behind Rangers.

Warburton’s side have to play both Hearts and Aberdeen away in the league next month. Those games will be a good gauge at how well they’ve reacted to the Old Firm defeat and how tough it will be to finish above Hearts and the Dons.

As we’ve seen against Hamilton Accies and Kilmarnock, this Rangers side haven’t taken to the Premiership like ducks to water. They have often looked slow and have lacked imagination.

At a wedding this past weekend I spoke to a Motherwell, Accies and a Killie fan. They want to play Rangers (The Killie and Accies fan felt they deserved more than the draws they picked up) and they certainly aren’t scared of them. They truly believe that the Ibrox side are too arrogant and haven’t got the stomach for a battle on the pitch.

Questions are now being asked of Mark Warburton, who enjoyed a brilliant debut season last term. His purchases haven’t shone so far and he’s continued to fail in his quest to shore up the Rangers defence.

Big summer signing Joey Barton hasn’t been the boss on the park that he suggested he would be. That has caused delight amongst the rest of Scottish football and even Gers fans are suggesting he should be dropped. I actually think he can turn things around but he needs to concentrate on his football and not his social media activity. The decision to allow him to work with the media at the Euros instead of getting a full preseason under his belt was just folly! He can’t be seen as undroppable and maybe Jordan Rossiter in that role would be better for the Blues at this time.

There is no doubt that Niko Kranjcar possesses footballing talent but at the moment he doesn’t have the legs to dictate games and when he starts he often looks to be a passenger. He needs to get up to speed and fast!

I have said it for a while now but I just don’t think Wes Foderingham is a great number one. He doesn’t command his area and doesn’t produce those top class saves that fans are used to at Ibrox. He’s another one that should maybe take time out of the team and we can see what Matt Gilks can do.

That brings me to Rob Kiernan. Against Celtic, and Hibs in the Scottish Cup final defeat, he made countless mistakes and a few of those led to goals. He can become extremely sloppy and seems slow in reacting to danger or snuffing it out. Those aren’t qualities you want from your centre-half.

The team also need to create more chances and put those chances away.

I have no idea what Michael O’Halloran has to do to get in from the start, his pace frightens defenders and he’s used to this league. The Gers medical team need to get Joe Dodoo and Martyn Waghorn back fully fit and amongst the goals again too.

This week Mark Warburton told Rangers TV:

“We have to focus on giving our supporters a good performance and one that they enjoy.”

That hasn’t really happened since May. The rebuilding over the summer, that has seen an older player come in to the side which seems to have slowed down the team’s tempo. The lack of Murray Park graduates is also glaring. When Warburton came in he talked about there being a clear route for youngsters to get into the first team. That route now looks far from clear.

I personally think many have underestimated the challenge facing Rangers this season. Many have overlooked the other sides in Scotland that are more than capable of giving Gers a bloody nose and these are clubs that relish playing Rangers at the moment.

Rangers are capable of finishing in second place but only if they appreciate the enormity of that challenge and not looking past it and onto to Celtic. If the do manage to secure that second position the club and the fans should see that as a success because it will be a success for them this season.

I don’t mind ambition and confidence but at times you need caution and realism to help steady growth.

But hubris can always cloud the minds of many!

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