For the first time in many years, Rangers travelled to Tannadice to face Dundee United, as we looked to continue a fantastic run of wins in the league. A tougher challenge as United were very much up for the fight, but our side found another way to win to once again keep that big gap at the top of the table. It’s not a venue I can honestly say I have particularly missed given the poor quality of pitch, although whether we can expect any better from that area of the country, I am not too sure. The narrow field made our usual wide attacking play more difficult to use to full effect, and Micky Mellon set his team up to stifle our attacks from the wide attacking areas meaning those players had to work a lot harder to get the three points, and credit to the opposition for making it more of a contest.
What it required was set piece magic, and boy did we get that. An unbelievable free kick in the first half got the scoring under way before a very rare occurrence where we conceded a goal in the league, much to the surprise of everyone watching, including the Dundee United side. But another set piece move put us back in front and the second half was as a result a calmer affair as by that point The Arabs had tired themselves, and our fitness levels saw us through to claim what could turn out to be a very good win in the grand scheme of things. This absolutely felt like the kind of game that we would have dropped points in last season, the fact we have numerous avenues in which to find the victories is what makes us feel so encouraged about what we could achieve this season.
Here is how you rated our players after our win away at Dundee United.
Allan McGregor – 6.0 (7)
I think it would be harsh to put blame on McGregor for the goal that they score, it is a cross from deep which the player gets a foot to and it somehow finds it’s way into the net. That description would suggest this was not a good goal, I don’t want that to come across that way, it was well worked and all you can say to it is “fair enough” but I cannot suggest this was a howler from our number 1. What would have been a howler though was a mix up between him and Balogun which could have led to United scoring from deep into an empty net. We have talked before about his unwillingness to come off his line, but there have been a couple of instances where he has tried to do this and it hasn’t worked quite as well as I’m sure he would have hoped. For me it’s simple, stick to what works best for you, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
James Tavernier – 8.2 (9) – Man of the Match
I am now running out of words to describe just how good James Tavernier is. We are in the middle of December and he has already equalled his goal scoring record for a season with 17 strikes, and it is more than likely he will smash his target of 20 for the season, and could go way beyond that too. His goal here will be one of the goal of the season contenders, no question. From that far out, to make the decision to take a shot at goal, and to work it in such a way that it flies so high up to dip down so late, making it impossible to save for any keeper, is what makes it so impressive. His free kicks are what got us the win of course, as he crosses in a dead ball for his fellow consistent defender to head in to reclaim the lead. Those who demand he focus on defending first and foremost will ask the question about why his man was able to cross the ball in leading to the goal we conceded, but I guess what we are learning as the season goes on is that he more than makes up for any defensive frailties (although he is a far better defender than what some will have you believe) with his attacking contributions. I am not sure there is a right back anywhere in world football who is having as big an impact on their team as what Captain Fantastic has for us.
Connor Goldson – 7.1 (8)
When you are under pressure, you need your big players to step up. Thanks to Connor Goldson, we got the three points here. There have been a few games that he has shown himself to be a goal threat in the area (one very big occasion this season springs to mind) and once again the link up between him and Tavernier is what did it for us. Well crossed in from the right hand side, Goldson has a real knack for that flicked type of header. It did not require a smash or anything like that, just a touch was all that was needed to let the ball find it’s way into the net. There have been a fair number of points that have been gained as a result of his work both at the back and up front, and again he is someone who will be seen as vital to our success should that come to fruition.
Leon Balogun – 6.3 (7)
I mentioned earlier the mix up between him and McGregor which almost saw United score, and this was the only thing I can remember from his game if I am honest. I’m not sure there was much that he needed to do in the game, United’s attacks were often from wide which were dealt with before Leon was necessarily required, and on the occasions that he was needed he did what he needed to do, not in a spectacular way, but in an efficient way. He won’t have felt too tired after this game I do not think.
Borna Barisic – 6.3 (7)
Could Borna have been tighter on his man for that cross? Quite possibly, but I would still say that it is not something that you can point specific fingers at, it was simply one of those things, although had we not won the game the feeling may have been different. I thought his set pieces were there usual good selves, but that narrow pitch that I was talking about meant he had to cut inside a lot more in attacking scenarios which, on this occasion, did not really work as well for him.
Scott Arfield – 6.5 (7)
A sort of late arrival for Arf in this game really, as his biggest moments came in the later stages. We have our own opportunity to score into an empty net with their keeper in no mans land, but Scott’s shot was headed off the line by their defender (who was probably still trying to understand just how Tav’s free kick went in). Another chance he had was from a corner to the near post which he got his head to, only for it to hit the post and go for another corner, with the United keeper having no idea how he managed to intervene. Two opportunities to add to the scoreline which did not go in, but still a good shift from the midfielder.
Steven Davis – 7.0 (8)
It always seems like Steven Davis plays well at Tannadice. Whenever I think about him playing on that pitch he always does a good job I feel (unless I have blanked any bad performances from memory). I would put this game as another that he can be happy with, mainly down to his work in retrieving the ball in the centre. I talked about how United wanted to attack down the wide areas, and a lot of this was because they were having no joy in getting past Davis in the centre. As soon as the ball looked ever so slightly loose, he was there to capture it set us going again. This was what his job was and he did it very well.
Glen Kamara – 6.2 (7)
There is an understandable argument that in a game like this there is no need to have a Glen Kamara in the side, as that role could be replaced with a more attacking option, like a Joe Aribo for instance. I would argue that he still offered the same level of calm assurance in the centre, and was doing well with challenges that were timed just right. He is becoming a better attacking player and is capable of scoring when he believes in himself, but you still would not class him as the ideal attacking option. Do we score more goals with an attacking midfielder in his place? Probably. But we are more likely to make the job harder for ourselves if we do not have him in place.
Kemar Roofe – 5.7 (7)
I think the ratings for both the wide attackers are harsh, personally. In terms of Roofe, I thought his work rate was really good, and it had to be as this was a climate that was not as easy as it would be in a home game. He gets on the end of some well worked chances in is unfortunate not to find the net on a few of those occasions. The criticism around him is possibly to do with him not actually having the end product, but he probably ranks higher with people had the rest of the attack done their job as well.
Alfredo Morelos – 4.2 (5)
This is tough. It’s tough because I want him to do well, we want him to succeed and be the best player that we all know he can be. But this was a rotten day from Alfredo. The obvious thing to talk about is the elbow on Connolly. It was unnecessary and stupid. Had the referee sent him off there could be no complaints from anyone, the fact he was booked was actually remarkable and we absolutely got away with one. Not that it really helped us in terms of our attack mind you, from that point the chances he gets are ones a striker of his quality really should be putting away, yet a header near the end of the first half and two times in the six yard box where the ball is at his feet and he cannot connect just summed up his day. The fact he stayed on the park for as long as he did was astonishing, but the manager clearly has his backing. It would be nice for us to see that Alfie backs the manager too by putting in more mature performances more often. When he plays sensibly, he is excellent, but when his mind wanders and he goes into this weird mode of wanting to fight in the wrong way, he is a liability to the side. The fact he will miss a couple of games at least is probably a good thing for us, as we have often seen him return to the team playing much better after a spell out.
Ryan Kent – 5.8 (7)
Like Roofe, I thought Kent worked a lot harder than this rating deserved. The link up between the two was very nice, a good partnership seems to be brewing which is incredibly exciting, and he tracked back to help out Borna on the left hand side which has to be commended. Not much more that can be said for the wide guys, and as I say with a better performance from the central attacker the ratings for these guys could have been higher.
Cedric Itten – 5.8 (6)
We were crying out for Ced the Ted to get into this game, and when he did he made a better impact than what Morelos did almost straight away, dropping deep to work well defensively, and running down the flank looking to create chances. He has earned a place in the team from the start now I feel, and what would be nice to see is him and Roofe interchanging roles during a game to mix up the attacking options, I could see this working very well.
Bongani Zungu – 4.8 (5)
For the brief spell he was on the park he showed why he is a great destroyer, winning aerial duels and looking solid in the middle. Game by game, I get more excited by his role for us in future seasons.
Joe Aribo – 4.6 (5)
You could maybe argue that if Aribo is getting better at the defensive side of his game he maybe does play in the middle here, but even so I think when we are playing sides that are more straightforward in the league then Joe should be starting these games, he is a far bigger goal threat.