Rangers returned to action after the winter break with a trip to Pittodrie to face an Aberdeen side whom we were looking to settle a score against. Off the back of an annoying draw at Ibrox earlier in the campaign, the prospect of fans being back in the stadiums once again following the most recent variant of unpleasantness, the expectations were that our Rangers team, guided by Giovanni van Bronckhorst, would continue their excellent domestic record since our managers arrival. The team that we put out, however, would not be the one he would have looked to select had all players been available, with the likes of Steven Davis and Scott Arfield out with injury, whilst Joe Aribo (seen by many as our most important player right now) away playing at the African Cup of Nations with Nigeria. This forced us into playing a slightly more defensive set up with two holding midfielders, one of whom was making his Rangers debut, and this meant we needed our attacking quartet to really make sure they were getting and giving themselves as many chances up front as possible.
As it would turn out, the game would cause us many frustrations, both in terms of our team and how it was being officiated. We failed to start the game with a zest that you would have hoped to have seen from our side, especially against a defence which should not cause us any real issues. Aberdeen had early chances, one clipping the outside of the post and another well held by our keeper, before he was at the certain of an incident where Aberdeen felt they should have had a penalty, but the player already having lost control of the ball and beginning to fall before any form of contact (if you can even call it that) was made meant it absolutely was not a penalty. From the following attack, we would go in front, a cross field ball was then delivered from the left for our attacking mid to sneak in and convert after confusion at the back. We would go into the break ahead but the second goal was certainly needed given we were not at our best. This continued into the second half, and in fact we saw a real drop off from our first half performance, which seemed impossible. We made a very early decision to try and contain and hold what we had which ultimately backfired when Aberdeen were awarded a penalty, a handball in the box from a corner, which was converted to level things up. Over the course of the match the refereeing performance of Kevin Clancy was awful, in fact it was beyond inept, to the point where you question how someone who is supposedly fit to officiate a match like this can even do so. The prime example of this was a sending off for a second yellow on one of our players in an incident which was never a booking, and the first yellow card received comes from a referee who has lost control of the game altogether. By the end of the game, a point was as much as either side really deserved in what was a poor match, and there will need to be an improvement in levels moving forward.
Here is how you rated our players from a frustrating night in the north east.
Allan McGregor – 5.5 (6)
Eventful first 45 minutes with a few saves to make as well as the non penalty incident. He showed safe hands with the save he makes from the shot on the edge of the area, stretches well as you would expect him to do. Aberdeen had a fair number of shots in the second half but they were so often so wayward, but the penalty is one you cannot expect him to save of course.
James Tavernier – 5.5 (6)
Only real attacking highlight was a shot in the second half after having the ball laid off in the area, which was blocked by the defender. Outwith that and a few runs forward down the right, we didn’t see an awful lot from the skipper, and a game like this gives fans who question his leadership abilities in a situation like this the opportunity to share those views again.
Connor Goldson – 6.2 (7) – Man of the Match
The centre of our defence was by no means the worst part of our game, in fact the two players who have the most right to hold their heads highest from the match were our defensive duo. Goldson did his job, handled aerial duels in the main and did not make any glaring errors. He also looked the most comfortable of our players out there as well.
Calvin Bassey – 6.0 (7)
In the same way as Goldson, there isn’t a huge amount you can point to in a bad way regarding Bassey, although he did look slightly more shaky on the ball. Things like taking a bit longer to control the ball, being slightly rash with his passing. It was a slightly more frantic return for him, but as I said, nowhere near the main issue of the game.
Borna Barisic – 5.4 (6)
I noticed on quite a few occasions that Aberdeen were getting a fair amount of joy from balls over the top of Borna to get the right by line. It suggests a dip in defensive levels from Barisic compared to the run of game he had pre Christmas. He is also at the centre of an elbow incident where Johnny Hayes manages to bash his nose twice, and yet this is never actioned or even noticed. That said, Clancy orders him off to clear his nose when it is bleeding, right when we need to defend a set piece. Interesting.
Glen Kamara – 4.9 (5)
A quiet evening, we saw very little of the usual sweeper and composed style that Kamara brings to the holding role. This seems to happen to him whenever he is partnered in the middle by someone who plays similar, as though he thrives more when he is the sole player responsible for that job. He has never been as good at sharing the same job, and as a result we sometimes fail to see him do much else from him as a result.
James Sands – 5.2 (6)
A tougher debut than many Rangers players will have, but clearly he has shown enough to coaching staff to earn the chance to play in this game. He is very versatile, we will likely see him play in a number of different positions for us, but for me I would suggest the role he plays here is the most likely one in the long term. In this game, he was fine. He grew into it after a shaky start, passed the ball well, and didn’t do anything to suggest the game was too big for him.
Scott Wright – 5.1 (6)
A return to his former club and starting this game was an interesting statement from the manager given the options he could have gone with. However, this was not a great return from him. He went missing far too often, didn’t do anything threatening in the area. The only positive was his cross field ball to Kent which helped set up our goal. There was very little outwith that to point to as evidence of him starting these bigger games.
Ianis Hagi – 5.3 (6)
The movement for the goal is really good. He times the run well to get into that position, causing confusion between keeper and defender, and it is a calm finish from close range. That was good, but it was really the only thing that he did in this game, which is a real worry considering he should be the catalyst for attacking moves. It feels like a continued campaign to criticise him, but for the last 10 games or so, it is fair to ask how many times has he made an important contribution to a game. He scores here, yes, he has assisted a couple of times, yes, but the number of moments like that over 10 games should be, at this point, the number he should be reaching over a few games max. His early booking is a really stupid one as well and unnecessary.
Ryan Kent – 5.5 (6)
He will earn a lot of praise for the goal we score and rightly so, the cross is a really good one, the weight and height of it exactly what you would want. He looked our main attacking threat in the first period of the game, but we failed to utilise that enough. That threat did fade as the second half wore on, and the frustration in that resulted in the coming together between him and Hayes. As mentioned, the yellow card for that is daft but given the way the ref was going it was not surprising. To then send him off later on for simply closing down Brown, it does not make sense, and the fact it is a second yellow means it is far more unlikely to be overturned. A victim of ridiculous officiating.
Alfredo Morelos – 5.6 (6)
His hold up play was good here, but he just was not supported enough. Has a shot in the second half which was so close to regaining the lead for us, but this was his best chance of the game. We wont blame him for the handball, that is a consequence of the rule that many will not agree with but was all the same followed. It would be good for him to try and stay closer to the penalty area more though to give us more chances to find him for shooting chances.
John Lundstram – 3.5 (5)
Him coming on as early as he did made no sense. We were not playing at all well by this point, and the idea that we could hold what we had from that point onwards was a huge ask and something which the manager will need to hold his hands up to. Lundstram doesn’t do anything particularly wrong here, but he will naturally be viewed as someone who did not need to come on which will cloud judgements on him.
Fashion Sakala – 3.8 (5)
A player I would have started here and is on far too late to expect a big impact from. He will get chances to start a number of games in the coming weeks, I have faith he will prove an important part of getting ourselves back to the levels we expect, whether out wide or through the middle.
Cedric Itten – 3.5 (5)
Having returned from his loan in Germany, Itten was briefly on at the end in the hope of snatching something but the game pattern was not going that way at all. He gives us another option, it’s a chance for him to impress in a style that will hopefully suit him better. Let’s see if he can take that chance.