Rangers travelled to Edinburgh on Wednesday in a game that many of us circled in the calendar. Not because we were expecting to be in attendance (not far off a year since most of us were at a football game, that is such a sad thought) but because it felt like a bookmark for seeing how the league was shaping up to see if this season would finally be the one we would take back what was rightfully ours. Had you offered us the current state of affairs, to be 23 points clear having played 3 games more (and to still be that distance ahead after the weekend!) then many hands would have been bitten clean off. It’s been a remarkable season from our side, and in what was always going to be one of the toughest matches of the season, our players produced a hard fought result and three points that felt incredibly important. The first half was dominated by talk of an incident missed by the referee that could have made the game much tougher for us had it been viewed properly, but thankfully no player was sent off and the very player at the heart of the incident would go on to be the match winner. If you are not of a Rangers persuasion and you are reading this, yes, it’s a conspiracy and the SFA and the referee’s are all doing this to screw Celtic. Oh how I hope they have just read that and oh how I wish I could see their reaction, maybe one of them will actually believe it. That’s nonsense, of course they will!
It’s worth remembering that this success from us not only hurts our neighbours, but a much wider scope of Scottish football as well. Aberdeen fans have very much been furious of late, although that might be the apathy toward their own manager, who knows and frankly who cares? This weekend we saw three panellists on Sportscene look like they were presenting live from a wake, with one in particular, Motherwell full back Stephen O’Donnell, stating that Rangers being so far ahead was “bad for Scottish football”. Hibs fans themselves will also being feeling very salty, one in particular who was working for Hibs TV at the game on Wednesday who made some very stupid comments about our support and our players. It should be remembered, that people like that who try and pretend to be smart with overly aggressive language are in fact very sad people who are deeply upset by our impending success. Long may that continue.
Here is how you rated our players from our victory at Easter Road.
Allan McGregor – 6.9 (7)
McGregor had plenty to say to the referee when the ball was stolen from his hands that led to the best chance Hibs had in the game. Having gained control of the ball, the Hibs striker kicked the ball away from his hand and laid it off for Irvine who smashed over the bar. There was really very little for McGregor to be concerned about other than that moment, the credit for which should be given to the four defenders standing in front of him.
James Tavernier – 6.9 (7)
One or two noises about Tavernier and whether he once again had a poor game in what some see as a slump, I think when you look at this game in particular, it’s less about his form and more about the job he needs to do. Against the likes of Doig and Cadden, two fast wide men, it’s important to have players there covering the sections of the field they will want to run into. Therefore, rather than have a situation like up in Aberdeen where we get caught out and ultimately concede, it makes more sense for him to stay back more and cover that area. As a result, given the lack of impact that Hibs made in the wide areas, you have to call his performance a success, without any stand out moments to shout about.
Connor Goldson – 7.3 (7)
The general at the back who once again guided the team to another clean sheet, there is little more to be said about Connor Goldson other than he may well have become my favourite centre back I’ve seen at Rangers. I’m not saying he is the best, you have to remember in recent times players like Bougherra, Cuellar and Weir, but to have improved in the way he has since he came here to be so instrumental in this campaign, I reckon that for many that will be one of the abiding memories of this season when it’s success is confirmed.
Filip Helander – 7.8 (8)
You just notice the difference when Helander is in the side. We look like such a competent outfit at the back when he features, and his consistency levels are top drawer. The stats for games that he features in are fantastic for the number of games he has played in the league, no league game has been lost when he has played, and he has been here for 18 months now. Injuries will always be the worry with him, but he is a player who would be at a much higher level now if it was not for the occasional set back. He surely goes down as a player who will provide a superb financial return for us if he was to be sold. But to be honest, I really don’t want him to go anywhere for a while.
Borna Barisic – 6.8 (7)
There are so many similarities to say about the performances of Borna and Tavernier. With the wide play so important for Hibernian, both full backs were gong to need to be sharp and less inclined to bomb forward as they so often like to do. One tackle in particular in the second half showed that Barisic is actually a very competent defender, and the improvement he has made from a couple of seasons ago is outstanding.
Ryan Jack – 7.2 (7)
A start for Ryan Jack following his excellent substitute appearance at the weekend, and his involvement would have been to stem the additional threat that a side like Hibs will pose over one of the lower down Scottish sides. This can have some benefits, particularly in the quest to win the midfield battle, but it can limit you offensively, requiring more work from your attack minded players. However, once we go ahead, the result was in no doubt because at that point you have the perfect midfield set up, Jack being an important part of that. It’s why many made the comment that it felt like a European night, as this is how we would likely set up in a bigger Europa league match. Thankfully it paid off, and Jack getting more minutes after his injury lay off is no bad thing for our squad depth.
Steven Davis – 7.1 (7)
I’d like to talk about the contribution Steven Davis makes to the goal we score. Him bringing the ball from the middle to the attack, threading it through to the attackers and the ball landing at the feet of Morelos to finish off with ease, there really should be a lot more credit given to him for this. That and the fact that he keeps on playing game in game out in a role that would tire people out far sooner. For however much longer we have Steven Davis in the team, we should enjoy the hell out of what he does on the ball, in the open spaces, and in closing down moves. One of the best midfielders that Britain has seen in the modern era for that specific job, and one of the finest footballers Northern Ireland has ever produced.
Glen Kamara – 8.6 (9)
A couple of years ago, Rangers did some excellent business in securing pre contract deals for two of the leagues brighter talents out with Glasgow. One was seen as a player with great potential who would push us on to securing league titles and increase hugely in value, whilst the other was seen as a good squad option who would probably be sold for profit but not expected to sell for a massive amount. A couple of years down the line, the player that fans had much higher expectations for, Jordan Jones, is now on loan down south with his Rangers future seeming more bleak, whilst Glen Kamara has pushed on to the point that he is a star midfield player who can produce performances like this one and blow the opposition out of the water. A magnificent display of dribbling past players and setting up moves, and the fact he did this when playing beside Ryan Jack just shows how much he has improved. Long gone are the days of “Jackamara”. He did this all whilst being targeted for robust challenges on many occasions, one in particular from Darren McGregor which seems to have gone very much under the radar. All the same, this spurred on Glen to produce one of his best games of the season, and a better midfield performance in the league I am seldom likely to come across from a player this season. If we do, the chances are Glen Kamara will be the player to produce it, he is just such a great player.
Joe Aribo – 6.8 (7)
A quieter day than his superb pieces of skill and endeavour against Ross County, but even so he makes a vital contribution, with the slightest of touches. The ball is played through by Davis, and Aribo just glances the ball with his foot, setting it on course with the onrushing Morelos to do what he does and slot the ball in. When it comes to moves like that, he is really good, but on the evidence of the match here we maybe would not pick him for a one on one run at goal, as he had a chance in the first half which any confident attacker would have run through on goal with before taking on the shot. Instead he is too slow to get the burners on and in a panic hits the shot way too soon. An example of why he should be used in the middle of the park more than this more advanced role he was in more last season.
Alfredo Morelos – 6.9 (7)
All that the mainstream media will want to discuss regarding Alfredo Morelos is the stamp on Ryan Porteous in the first half that could have easily seen him sent off. Let me just get this out of the road quickly. Yes, he was lucky to stay on the park. Yes, he needs to be smarter than that on the field. I have not come across a Rangers fan who feels any different to this. But the incessant nature of the discussion surrounding this issue is what interests me so much. There have been many other events that have taken place in Scotland this season that have failed to see proper action taken at the time. We have been on the receiving end of that when the Dundee United defender’s studs penetrated Morelos’ leg. A number of Celtic and Aberdeen players have also not received retrospective actions for incidents of similar severity to this one. Even Steven Naismith’s stamp on Scott Brown in the Scottish Cup final was not given anywhere near the same level of attention as this. This is not whataboutery. As I said, we were lucky for Alfredo to still be on the park, and if he is punished after the fact then it will be difficult for us to complain with that incident in isolation. But the distinct lack of parity regarding how different incidents are addressed is the main issue. And for Alfredo in particular, he is the man who wins the match for us with his goal in the second half, and he could have added to that as well with some great chances which astonishingly were not converted afterward. We need him on the field, he can win us matches when he plays really well, and even when he is not quite at the level we would want him to be, such as this game.
Ryan Kent – 6.9 (7)
This is interesting. With Kent he has been going through levels of extremes in his game, either being excellent or being way below what we would expect. Funnily enough, this patchy run started the last team we were at Easter Road, where as this time Kent put in a match that, although not defining to the result, had plenty of benefits. He looked eager to get involved in the goal action, a shot on the edge of the box that was well saved probably his highlight, and whilst the goal or assist did not come, it’s not a game he should feel to bad about. If he gets any sort of scoring contribution here, he is talked about in much higher esteem. This is the benchmark Ryan. This is what we at the very least expect. But we know he can do far more damage to a side.
Kemar Roofe – 5.8 (6)
He comes on for the last 20 minutes or so, and in that time I think he makes a bigger impact than in an chance creation sense than any of the starting forwards, aside from the goal obviously. For example, his work to create a chance for Kent was superb close control and releasing the ball at the right time, and the work he did with fellow sub Itten was also really positive. They both work really hard up top together, there is no sense of expectation that “others will do that for me so I don’t need to worry about that”. As far as bench options are concerned, it’s hard to think of many better than Roofe, it’s great to have him playing more regularly again, hopefully he can start some games soon.
Bongani Zungu – 5.7 (6)
A really solid 10 plus minutes from Zungu when he came on. It was far more noticeable the work that he was doing to cut out any late break away chances for Hibs, exactly what he was brought into the side to do. I’m glad we could see that in more depth because the ability is clearly obvious, it’s just about understanding whether he will be an asset to the side in the long run that we are still trying to work out.
Cedric Itten – 6.1 (6)
All three substitutes did well when they came on, and probably the biggest stand out from the trio was Cedric Itten, who was doing some excellent work in holding up the ball toward the end of the game to see out this really important result. As eluded to, his partnership with Roofe looks really good, and the idea of a strike partnership between the two could be something to think about going into next season. Either way, I once again maintain that Ced is going to be an important player for us in future campaigns.