Change was wanted. Change was needed. Change was in the air as Rangers got back to winning ways at Ibrox with a comfortable (if still not quite inspiring) win over Kilmarnock. A first half that had many fans worrying due to lack of hitting the back of the net, but there was a difference in the sense we were creating more chances, taking more shots, but it still required that extra bit to get into that zone to win the game. We got that in the second half, clever build up play, a good cross and a first goal for a player who I think showed a lot more of what he will do for us this season. The second goal was also deserved in terms of who scored it, and overall, the mood music amongst the support feels a lot better now. Let’s face it, this last week was not a fun place on social media for us.
When I talk about change, the line up was very different from what we expected. The big question mark going into the game was whether Alfredo Morelos would play, and the talk from Steven Gerrard both during his press conference the previous day and in the build to the match on Saturday put a heavy suggestion that we are at the point where we have to see what our future without the Colombian is going to look. And we mixed things up in terms of who would come in both in the attacking midfield area and the defensive midfield zone. This rotation, this freshening things up, it is not something that the manager is overly keen to do, but it gave the team a kick which I think it needed and allowed us to play better than last weekend, winning the game, and continuing this incredible run of clean sheets which now dates back to the late 1920’s, an achievement that really should not go amiss in all the discussions.
An easier read than last time, here is how you rated those who featured on Saturday.
Jon McLaughlin – 6.4 (7)
An important part of this record breaking run has been about the man between the sticks, and the vast majority of the time that has been Jon McLaughlin. Brought in as a back up keeper, he has played a lot more already than what he or indeed most would have expected. But, despite not having had much to do at all during his run so far, I always feel assured that his experience is there should it be required. I like that he is almost unremarkable, collects the ball with no hassle, sends it out without any issue. It’s possibly hard to judge him against Allan McGregor until he has had a game where he is far busier. But I really don’t mind if that doesn’t happen for a long time!
James Tavernier – 6.6 (7)
Continually becoming more positionally aware, we saw more of an attacking emphasis from Tav in this game, and yet another assist to add to his tally this season, this time from open play however. His deep crossing in play is still something that can be worked on I believe, particularly in terms of the decision making, as there were a few occasions where he was crossing the ball for players that were far less suited for those kinds of deliveries. He is very close to getting that first goal of the season though, feels like only a matter of time, because he clearly is being asked to be right up with the attacking play. I do find the level of critique put on him by some as surprising however, and am really interested to understand why this is still the case.
Connor Goldson – 7.0 (7)
Assured, composed, chalk this one up to the same as his previous outings this season. Great consistency, and so much of the good work that is being done defensively is down to him because he is absolutely the player who is marshalling the back line. What is also good to see is he continues to try these long passes which are still coming off for him more often than not. Not much to add to this that hasn’t been previously said, all we can say to Connor is “keep it up”.
Filip Helander – 7.0 (8)
Helander has been getting better with each game he has been playing since his return. I thought he was excellent on Saturday, sweeping up any dangers and taking on a lot of responsibility when it came to defending for the team. His speed is something you wouldn’t necessarily think about initially but he does have it can and can use it when he really needs to. After the initial suggestions that he was going to have to work really hard to take Balogun’s spot in the side, it now feels as though those roles have reversed. This is exactly the situation we want to find ourselves in.
Borna Barisic – 7.5 (8)
We have our bias toward our side, no question. We believe that our players are the best, or at least expect them to be. When we talk about our players being “one of the best around” we tend to say that with the realisation that this statement can only really apply to players who can realistically be with us for the level we regularly play it. Therefore, with that in mind, I want to make it absolutely clear that this following statement is in regard to the whole footballing world. Borna Barisic is currently in the top 10 best left backs in the world. He has amazing attacking instincts, as well as being solid in a defensive sense. He doesn’t have the pace like some of the top names (Jordi Alba, Alphonso Davies etc) but he makes up for that with always being in the right place. I also struggle to think of many left backs who take as good a free kick as he does, and the fact he is a starter for one of the top footballing nations as well gives absolute credibility to that statement. Another smart assist from this game makes me feel comfortable in making that assessment.
Ryan Jack – 6.5 (7)
What I liked about Ryan Jack here was there was a bit more forward momentum at least. Bringing the ball into advanced areas, trying to find options and at least having an attempt at goal. We know that he is more than capable of producing this, yet of late he has been far more reserved. Clearly Steven Gerrard would love Jack to provide all the roles that would be necessary for that position, but in terms of what Ryan Jack is best at…it is harder to pinpoint that. He is tough tackling, and his passing can be good when he is on form, but sometimes when things get tough he doesn’t really stand up as much as we maybe want/expect him to. Maybe the recruitment over the next month will give us a better idea of how Gerrard does see him, and whether he is going to be a consistent player for us in whatever that role turns out to be.
Steven Davis – 6.4 (7)
Came in for Glen Kamara to offer more of a drive from the middle of the park, and he at least was more advanced than the Finnish international. I don’t think Davis is the kind of player who can make an impact from the bench any more, so when he does play he is better off starting as he did here, and he looked fine. He didn’t do enough to claim a regular starting berth, not at all, but a performance like that would suggest that if the regular central midfielder could not play for whatever reason, having Davis come in for the odd game would certainly be ok.
Ryan Kent – 8.3 (8) – Man of the Match
I talked earlier about how good Borna Barisic is on a worldly comparison, will Ryan Kent is very much the key part of our side just now. As the game grew on he himself grew into that role that offered a lot more freedom than what he had last season for instance, and being able to spread the play, make runs inside from either flank, have a few shots at goal, it all adds up to him being the catalyst. He scored the second goal after the ball found it’s way from Tavernier to Kent’s boot, and a well placed shot into the corner of the net sealed the victory, but of course he was involved in the first goal too, feeding the ball to a wide open Barisic who took it from there. I think Kent is beginning to enjoy that key player status, which perhaps daunted him in his second season with the side, and any discussions over whether he may move down south should be met with the utmost resistance. He is so vital for what we do, can offer us a wide range of options, and is worth far more than what Leeds seem to be offering. Hands off, Bielsa, Ryan Kent is way too important for us.
Brandon Barker – 6.9 (7)
Probably the most surprising inclusion on the day was that of Brandon Barker, but in an interesting way his selection suggested a change of style, for myself at least. I was sure that Barker’s role would be to make runs down either flank and use that weapon of his in terms of pace to cause a problem for defences. What was interesting was, as well as doing that, he also looked to be more creative and was wanting to take more ownership of his play more too. He took shots, he passed the ball better, he did a lot more things that we need to see from an attacking midfielder in our side. Off the back of a seemingly excellent display in a mid week closed doors friendly, he earned his place on Saturday and it would seem as though fans across the board feel that he did enough to merit that place. Does this mean he is a nailed on starter? Of course not, he has attributes that will work for certain games, but that’s not for all games. But at least he has shown that his inclusion doesn’t automatically spell disaster. Better, not there yet (shave the head Brandon, accept it) but closer to what we want to see from him.
Kemar Roofe (Roffe) – 7.3 (7)
Now we have the name on the shirt bit out of the way, let’s focus on the actual football. I thought Roofe showed as a few interesting and useful elements to his game. He found himself in a number of different areas in the attacking third, in fact I’m sure he played in almost all of them at some point. He was quick, he had a few efforts at goal, he won a few aerial challenges too. What he didn’t do was hide, and his goal to open the scoring near the beginning of the second half, guiding the ball past the Kilmarnock keeper, was well deserved. Him being in the starting 11 would say to me that we can either have one or two up top at any given time. Now, if you are a defender who is being tasked with dealing with the attack, what on earth are you going to do to handle that if you have no idea where your man is going to be? That, to me, is the secret behind Kemar Roofe and, I honestly believe this, as the season will go on we will say more and more how we have done brilliantly to bring him in.
Cedric Itten – 6.5 (7)
The Swiss target man made his first start and in the first half he seemed to be far more wide than expected, hence the term ‘wide 9’. As much as I understand the rationale behind that, I would have much preferred him to be in the box a lot more, which he was in the second half. As that half went on he looked more and more comfortable, was becoming bolder with his attempts and was winning more aerial challenges. If we play to his strengths, the Swiss forward will score a lot of goals for us. Best he has played yet, now it’s time to get on that goal tally.
Scott Arfield – 4.7 (5)
Made his 100th appearance for the team by coming on so congratulations on that milestone Scott. For the remaining appearances though, I’m not so confident that many if any of them will be from the start. He is too useful for us in terms of versatility to come off the bench for any number of players. I do think that if he really goes for it when entering the fray he could do a lot more damage with his pace. I’d like to see him do that more often.
Glen Kamara – 4.0 (5)
The only thing I really remember from his inclusion was a very poor pass that gave away possession. This comes back to a problem that I think quite a few fans have with Kamara, he has complete brain farts sometimes, and one time it’s going to prove extremely costly. If and when the competition for those midfield spots intensifies, does he have the stomach for that fight?
Nathan Patterson – 4.8 (6)
My other memory of that Kamara pass was the way we sorted out winning the ball back, and by we I mean the league debuting Nathan Patterson. It might just be my bias for our own youth products but I thought that he looked really solid and secure for the brief period of time he was on for. No spectacular moments, but assured and very much in the image of what fans want from a right back, to first and foremost defend and get the ball to attacking players. I hope he can get quite a few opportunities to feature in the team this season, to really develop over the course of the campaign.
Ianis Hagi – 4.2 (5)
What would Ianis Hagi be thinking whilst watching the dynamic play of the forward line. Dropped from the side due to an apparent knock, although I would not be surprised if that was said to save face, Hagi will now need to work hard at getting the starting shirt back. His passing in the final third could be so lethal, so I really hope he gets to work at Auchenhowie.
Greg Stewart – 4.2 (5)
Had a chance to put some gloss on the scoresheet with a shot that was tamely hit and easily blocked by the Kilmarnock defender. Like Hagi, would Stewart be looking at that and thinking that he needs to work a lot harder to break into that first team side. Or, is he content with the role he has at the club? Does that perhaps show? That’s a thought that intrigues me, and I guess the only way to know for sure is whether his sub appearances suggest a man desperate to prove that he can be a starting player in this improved squad. I haven’t seen that yet.