The Europa League group stage kicked off with the glamour tie from the beginning, Lyon at Ibrox. For the first time since Bayer Leverkusen, non qualifying European football was in front of a bouncing Ibrox stadium, and the opposition manager was once again Peter Bosz. I’ve no doubt the Dutch coach would have impressed on his team that the atmosphere is something that his players would need to combat, as well as a team who have more often than not stepped up to the European occasion and delivered some very memorable moments, whether it be against Feyenoord, Porto, Rapid Vienna or Braga. To that end, many fans would have had the expectation of this night turning out the same, with a new hero emerging or yet another stand out display from someone who always seems to step up on the European occasion. That phrase “step up” would turn out to be the key in this game, and unfortunately for us, the French side would prove to be that level up which does seem to catch this side out. All the same, we started the game on an even footing with Lyon. We maintained the majority of possession and forced their defence into giving the ball away a number of times. Any Lyon fan watching would not have been happy with the opening 20 minutes or so. But as much as we were causing them problems, we were not testing the goalkeeper, and there was that nagging doubt in the back of your mind that if they were given a chance to test ours they might just take it. And they did. A great hit from Toko-Ekambi, cutting in from the left onto his right foot, and there was very little our keeper could do. This came off the back of us losing possession cheaply, and therein lies the lesson that the top teams will take advantage of any slip up you have, whereas we could not capitalise on the many errors that they made.
Our reaction to going behind was fine I felt. We kept up that same energy in going forward and had a few chances which on any other night you would have fancied turning into a goal. To go in behind by one goal at the break would be, to some, an unfair reflection on the way the first half went, as we merited to be level with some of the play we had in comparison to our opponents. The second half was a very different story though, as Lyon came out with a much more composed performance and we simply did not get going. A second goal lost via another loss of possession followed by a complete failure to get rid of the ball meant an attempted clearance was deflected into our own net. We looked defeated at that point, and there was still 40 minutes to go. We did not have any real forward emphasis, and players who you would normally turn to on nights like this to stand up and be counted just did not play anywhere near as well. The changes we would make did not make much of a difference in the end either, and chances that would be missed would be met with less desperation and more acceptance. Lyon managed the game out having realised that the referee was going to give a foul any time a player felt a gust of wind, and in the end, despite having done well in the first half, the final result was totally deserved over the context of the game. Our fans and our team have the same expectation for this season domestically. Win the league, and as a result gain automatic entry into the Champions League next season. If we do this, then we need to remember this game as an example of what that step up is going to be like. But it’s far from over as far as this group is concerned, and the players have earned the right for us to still believe we can progress into the knockout stage.
Here is how you rated our players from our opening Group A tie.
Allan McGregor 5.0 (5)
Twice conceding, one save which was in the same move as the second goal, I think that sums up how Lyon attacked us. They were clinical, with one or two other opportunities to score which ended up going wide. I don’t think there is much more he can do though. He didn’t have a howler, he didn’t cost us the game. It was just a night where he could do very little to positively affect it.
James Tavernier 4.6 (5)
In terms of what was good, he had one of the best chances of the game with a free kick in the second half that hit the post. In terms of what was bad, his name is on the scoresheet at the wrong end although it would be very hard to blame him for this, it was just desperately unfortunate. His first half runs down the right were decent but too often he didn’t get the supply he would have expected and deserved. That was not there in the second half though.
Connor Goldson 4.5 (5)
He made a challenge early on where he looked like he had done himself in and you’re immediately thinking “oh bugger” given we’re already down a first team centre back. He was fine in the end, but he needs to defend smarter than that, and he normally does, but the suspicions of him in particular finding this step up difficult were on show again I thought. You may well get people pointing the blame at him for the second goal as his clearance hits off Tav before going in. I think blame lies further up the field to be honest, but this was just a freak accident. On the plus side, I thought his balls over the top in the first half were consistently threatening.
Leon Balogun 6.0 (6)
I thought he was our best defender on the night. He won the most challenges at the back, and had the speed to keep up with their fast attackers. He would come out from the back line to meet the challenge as well, and the stats suggest that he should feel better than most of his teammates about his personal performance. He even had a headed opportunity to get something back for us late on which, had the whole team maybe felt a bit more confident, could have led to something more positive.
Borna Barisic 4.4 (5)
Only a quarter of the crosses that Borna hit were accurate. One of which was a low cut back which was the correct call in that move. That tells me that he is still not back to his absolute best, albeit we are judging him against a much better adversary. Their right back should have been targeted more due to his inexperience (not lack of talent, there is no Lyon player from Thursday night who wasn’t talented) but Borna just didn’t show enough really.
John Lundstram 5.0 (6)
It’s really tricky to analyse Lundstram’s game here, because I think for so many they will do so with the context of what he has done for us up to now. For me, he was our best player, but that comes with a number of decisions which, when you are watching live, you find difficult to understand from him. He would play some really clever passes out wide, but at the same time play half yard passes back and forth which added nothing to what we were doing. He would put in strong challenges in the middle of the park to win the ball back, but then immediately lose it. There are so many contradictions to his game, but I do believe that there is still work to do in terms of playing him in the right area of the field, which I don’t think the management team have worked out for him yet. One thing is for sure though. He cannot play with Davis.
Steven Davis 4.1 (4)
In the same way that Ryan Jack and Glen Kamara cannot play together for being far too similar, the same issue seems to be the case with Lundstram and Davis. This was, for many, the worst performance from Davis in a very long time. He looked utterly ineffectual. A wayward shot in the first half when a more level headed player would have played the ball out wide. A lack of energy which we feel has never been an issue with him before now. He really did have it tough against the higher level of opponent. His subbing off so early, which never happens, was in no way surprising.
Glen Kamara 4.4 (5)
You can normally turn to Kamara in a game like this and say “well at least he showed that he is a player for this level” and the annoying thing is he is, but he did not show it tonight. He didn’t really drive forward with the ball, nor did he win his own midfield battle. In no way does this suggest that he is past it, but it’s just been a night where players who normally do the business for us just couldn’t bring their level up enough.
Joe Aribo 4.4 (5)
Absolutely deserved a place in the starting line up for how he has performed up to now, and playing in a position that is probably most favourable to him, but what we needed in this game was not something that he was able to give us. He was able to dribble past defenders a couple of times with his excellent close control, but they were able to deal with that ultimately. For all his good points, you wouldn’t say pace was one of those attributes. It doesn’t need to be, but I think a faster player makes a bigger difference in that area.
Alfredo Morelos 4.3 (5)
The Alfredo of a couple of years ago makes more of an impact on this game. We missed that Buffalo here. No shots at goal, and he found it a lot more difficult to influence the game, and there was maybe a suggestion that he was not fully fit by the end, which may explain the performance overall. Going into the game I was most confident in him making the biggest impact on the game. It turned out not to be the case at all.
Ryan Kent 3.6 (4)
The two goals we lost came from errors in possession. Both of these errors were from Ryan Kent. It just shows you that you cannot switch off in games like this, and his one shot from the edge of the box that forced their keeper into action was the only decent moment for him. He still does not look fit, and having to come off when he did, I think we are now at the stage where we need to give him the chance to find that fitness again. He cannot just come back in on Sunday, he needs to fully recover. Let him rest. Because an unfit Ryan Kent is no use to us, we need to trust our squad more.
Scott Wright 4.0 (5)
Fans will turn around and say that the hunger and desire shown by Wright was a big plus point for us when he came on, but to be quite honest I thought he made it easier for Lyon to manage the game as he was far too easily bought with fouls. And I didn’t see any real impact from him going forward.
Kemar Roofe 4.4 (5)
A player of his quality should be able to come on in a game sooner than this, or indeed start a game like this, because when the game is totally done by the time he arrives, it’s tough to ask a whole lot of him. Unless there is a very good medical reason for him not playing, he should be starting every game.
Fashion Sakala 4.3 (5)
How can we make a proper judgement on Sakala when he only ever gets onto the field late on in games? It’s impossible to do so and people making the decision that he just isn’t good enough…how!? If he starts a couple of games and fails to do anything, you’ve a better case for that, but until then, I think the way he has been used has been poor from the management team. This upcoming game on Sunday, for example, he should 100% be given a go from the beginning as part of freshening up the squad. If he isn’t afforded that, then something is going wrong at Auchenhowie with him.