The entire build up to this game was about how Livingston were going to be a physical side and that we would need to match that physicality in order to compete. Well, whatever the plan was in the build-up, all it seemed to do was give our team the chance to hide within themselves and produce a below par display in a game that could have put some serious pressure on our opponents had we won. The fact that this would have been a brick wall torn down as a result just adds so much angst onto the whole affair. This is another game where we have the chance to capitalise yet fail to do so. For fans of a certain vintage, this will bring back memories of the 90’s, but flipped on it’s head. And with that will come a certain inevitability which many fans are now beginning to voice over whether this is a venture that will ultimately lead to nothing.
My personal view? It’s too early to be making that judgement. Yes, we are in what so many of us view as a crucial season. And the reality is, it is a crucial season for Steven Gerrard. It is his third campaign, he has had two where there has been no silverware as yet, although Europe has been by far his greatest achievement so far. But that isn’t good enough for fans. We want titles. We need them. We demand them. And if there is a suggestion that no lessons are being learned then fans will begin to put that level of pressure on. It comes with the job. But as I said, I’m not of the belief that the toys need to be thrown out of the pram, yet. That does not mean I am not hugely disappointed with the approach to the game, from both the coaching point of view and a number of the players. A real feeling that the system is what matters rather than a game by game basis. We need to be better at playing in a way that beats each individual opponent, not a one size fits all attitude. I always believe that is how you should approach matches, and we have the resources to make that viable. It saddens me that we don’t seem to do that enough, and it ends up with our fans in heated arguments as a result, which is such an unnecessary place for us to be at this point.
But the players did not do enough on the pitch, the awful pitch that does such a discredit to top flight Scottish football. A surface that produces such a bad product of the sport, where the bounce is ludicrously different and players are genuinely more at risk than on a normal surface. That in no way is the main reason we lost that game however. So here is how you rated the players performance at Almondvale.
Jon McLaughlin – 6.2 (6)
These kind of games can make life as a Rangers goalkeeper quite lonely, when so much is happening in front of you but you have so little to do, it is perhaps why Allan McGregor enjoys his extra-curricular activities. There was a moment in the second half that, had it gone south, could well have ended his Rangers career before it had properly started when a shot from the Livingston midfielder from his own half attempted to catch McLaughlin off his line. The keeper parried the ball but did stumble somewhat which did leave many hearts in mouths at a point where frustrations were growing considerably. But he did what he needed to do to keep it out. Cannot ask for a great deal more that that, nor did he really do a great deal more than that.
James Tavernier – 5.3 (6)
Clearly there is a developing expectation that James Tavernier needs to provide the same level of quality on the right as Borna Barisic does on the left. He will be judged on this and he will be judged harshly on the basis on what we have seen so far. Are his crosses as dangerous? They are from set pieces but the decision making in open play may well be something that fans consider a frustration. Could he shoot more? I think so, he is talented enough for shots to go in? I think his much lower rating that the rest of the defence ultimately comes down to the fact that we are expecting him to step up and lead the side when the game is going the way it went. The lack of leadership on the park, the lack of what we as Rangers fans consider a proper ‘captain’ from what we have had in years gone by, will ultimately mean fans will not hold him in the same regard as other skippers.
Connor Goldson – 6.1 (6)
Much like McLaughlin, there wasn’t a great deal for Goldson to do in this game, which is good in the sense that we have kept yet another clean sheet. But for a defender of his additional assets, is there a way for him to offer more in attack in for circumstances such as this? The onus should not be on him of course (oh, we’ll get to that) but he is good on the ball for a centre back so maybe it’s another option to consider.
Filip Helander – 5.7 (6)
It surprises me that people would rate Goldson lower than Helander in this game, was he noticeably worse? Did those who marked him lower put it down to the fact he had such a torrid time at Almondvale the previous occasion that it was almost stuck in their head? I thought he was fine, not good (no one was) but there were no clangers that’s for sure. I was hugely frustrated that late on it looked like he was the player who would bring the ball forward and pass it with purpose. That’s not a slight at him of course, but more in terms of the overall picture of that nonsense.
Borna Barisic – 6.7 (6) – Man of the Match
Best of a below average bunch. His crosses were good although at times I would have hoped for some more dynamism and to be honest by the time he did mix things up he would have been better off just crossing the ball in for the bigger striker. He looks comfortable week in week out, he looks willing to do what he can to win the game for us, and was so nearly the hero with an excellent free kick that was only stopped by an even better save. All I would ask is he try get into a better habit of diversifying his balls from wide more often. It’s probably quite easy to go in with the mindset of “stick to crosses and one will pay off”, but he is more than talented enough to think for himself and brave enough to change it too.
Ryan Jack – 4.4 (5)
And so, we come to the part of the show that we have all been waiting for I’m sure. The deep midfielders. The players who are of course sitting their waiting for the multitude of attacks from an opposition who will be going all out to put on a show and play silky football on the perfect turf. Wait…sorry, we were not playing Manchester City? Oh, it was Livingston…well this is awkward. Yes, the question that everyone is asking, why play two deep lying midfielders? Well, given the last couple of games, it was understandable and expected that this would in all likelihood happen. In my opinion, it’s less about who you play in the middle but more about how you use them. That’s less the case with Kamara who I will of course get to, but with Ryan Jack there is clear evidence that you can play him week in week out but ask him to do different roles. He is more than capable of being someone to drive forward with the ball in a game like this. We can look back to Ross County last season, that was an outstanding midfield performance. So why is he not doing that in this kind of game? Is there a fear that it puts an imbalance on the team because of who is front? Frankly, with the way some of those players did further up the park, I would hope for something to shake that up a bit. It was so unnecessarily safe from Ryan Jack, why did he have to drop so deep to get the ball? Why does he need to play ping pong with Kamara in the centre circle? Why is he reverting back to the kind of midfielder that is more “good to have in the squad” than “key component”? Maybe last season was the outlier. Maybe that was just a blue streak from the Scotland international. Maybe, for us to reach that pinnacle, we need a better option than Ryan Jack. Actually, I’m beginning to think that last “maybe” was unnecessary.
Glen Kamara – 4.8 (5)
If you are playing a 4231, and you are going to play Glen Kamara in that 11, you know what he is going to give you. Safe, secure passes and provide full back cover. We know this. So, the question with him is, what is the point? What is the point in a game like this to have such a cautious player, who seems to have so much fear over the idea of being in an advanced position? You can almost see the fear in him when he finds himself 20 yards from goal. He is desperate to play the short pass to Hagi, to Tavernier. “You do it”. No ownership. Is he a player that has his use? Absolutely, we cannot and should not disregard how happy we were with him post St Johnstone. But not in this kind of game. A lot more of that is on the management team. I come back to that point. If you are going to play him you know what you are getting. If you are not expecting that, that is bad selection, if you are expecting that, it’s bad selection, both for different and obvious reasons.
Scott Arfield – 4.0 (5)
Comes in to replace the injured Joe Aribo and post-game we are all thinking “wow, we missed Joe Aribo”. When the team is announced and you understand why Aribo isn’t playing, you look at Arfield and think “yeah I can get on board with that, offers a bit more physicality, will want to get forward”. But it was just so meek, much like the whole team really. This was a real chance for him to make a claim that he could definitely still contribute from the start in games. Scott, I think you blew that chance, and given the players who are further up the pecking order than you and players we will look to bring in (hopefully), I think you will be very lucky to get another chance like that. I really hope I’m wrong.
Ianis Hagi – 3.9 (5)
Where is the evidence to suggest that Ianis Hagi has done enough to retain a starting spot? Flashes of great moments in some games, but that hasn’t happened in every game, far from it, and this was another really underwhelming day for him. It’s now at the point where we have to ask if he can continue starting with this run of form. Is it beneficial for him to do so? I honestly feel that if Aribo is fit enough to play on Saturday that he should take Hagi’s place in the starting line-up. We cannot have this many games where we haven’t seen what we would expect in terms of consistency and still think it is fine and well for him to start. And if you are asking “well what was it he did wrong?” (fair question), look at the space in between the 2 DM’s and the attacking quartet at some of those points in the second half. Why is he not running back, demanding the ball, turning and saying “right, who wants this?” Where is that drive? Time for some fire in the belly. And maybe dropping him will fuel that.
Ryan Kent – 6.1 (6)
The only attacker who really showed something at the very least expected. Some nice running in behind the defence but no end product, although unlucky with a shot near the end that would have grabbed the points. I don’t know whether he is the kind of player who will really lose that performance level on a plastic pitch, but even if that was the case, at least he was doing something, and even with the lack of service provided he was by far and away the most noticeable attacker
Alfredo Morelos – 4.7 (5)
Which leads nicely on to Morelos. When he really wants to he can do everything you could want for. And he did that against St Mirren, he did all the good things. St Johnstone? Quieter but enough of a presence to make a level of difference. Here? Not good enough. Yeah, he was coming deep for the ball and was trying to find teammates but that didn’t always come off, but the big issues was around what he was doing in the box. He was just standing waiting for crosses and was never doing enough to get a concerted effort on goal. Their keeper had nothing to do whilst he was on the park, and that is really poor for our main striker to not test him once. Can you level a lot of blame at the lack of service? Of course you can. But if there is a sharper looking Morelos in the box, then more around him will have the confidence to give the Livingston defence more to think about. And that gives Morelos more openings.
Brandon Barker – 3.8 (5)
It’s such a baffling substitution to make, it does not fit the way the game has gone up to that point at all. We are needing a passer, someone to unlock the key, and you bring on a guy who is only really about speed? It’s the kind of change that a manager makes when they feel like they can prove everyone wrong, that feeling is there for a reason though, because the doubts over how Steven Gerrard can handle games like this are only emphasised when the in game change that you make is this one. Would the thinking behind this come from the fact that he could do the job that Kent was doing on the other side? Whatever the thinking was, this was a strange move and given the fact he did “hee haw” during his spell on the park, our doubts over that change were clearly justified.
Kemar Roofe – 3.9 (5)
We need to start playing Roofe from the beginning now. He has had time to settle in, by all accounts he is looking sharper in training, get him on the park from the get go now. He has struggled to make an impact on games from the bench, but St Johnstone was done by the time he arrived and this game had it’s own problems, one that he could well have solved had he had more time on the park. So I firmly believe he should be in from the start on Saturday.
Cedric Itten – 3.6 (5)
I feel sorry for Itten in this game. When he came on I thought we would see loads of crosses from the wide areas for him to test the defence with his great heading ability. Only problem was we then decided to mix it up. Wrong way around! People who are saying that he is just not up to it, have a word with yourself. You cannot judge him on his very limited game time yet. See if he starts a couple of games and does nothing, you have a right to have those thoughts. Not yet though.