The League Cup quarter finals arrived for Rangers off the back of a couple of disappointing performances at Ibrox, and the need for the team to get itself into the semi finals was more than simply finding some form again, or indeed the fact that we as a club should be looking to win these competitions in any case. Last season we did have an issue when it came to the domestic cup competitions, with those who are more than willing to find faults with Steven Gerrard, or indeed Rangers, keen to point out that we have a poor record in both the League Cup and the Scottish Cup. Up against a Livingston side who were on a high after their win over the other half of the Old Firm, we couldn’t simply take this game for granted and needed the players to step up to the task, otherwise serious pressure would begin to mount on the side. The trend of late has been a strong first half followed by a much weaker second half performance, therefore we had every right to think this pattern would repeat itself and we would see a fresh looking line up take the game to Livingston from the get go. That was not the case. Our chances were limited and our use of the ball was in that really poor place, much like in the second half against Motherwell. Limited to only a few chances, we were otherwise treated to a pretty tame and weak performance from the team. Something needed to change, we needed that extra spark, someone who could open up the game with a killer ball and drive us on. That was exactly what we got.
A very obvious but all the same necessary half time change had an immediate effect, with the returning player demanding the ball and wanting to make something happen. His ball across the face of goal was the set up for an easy tap in to open the scoring, and the mental advantage that gives you in a game like this for us to have the option to shift the dynamic so quickly is so important. From there, we looked far more comfortable, the players looked to have a weight lifted from them, and we started to enjoy some better pieces of attacking play. Livingston never really threatened throughout the game (which is where the frustration of the first half comes from) so it was all down to what we could produce. You need that second goal though, always, and we got it after a poor pass from the Livi goalkeeper set up our striker to eventually convert to secure the result. It was a mistake from them, but that came from pressure we put on the backline which we were doing a lot more in the second half, so as much as the goal was fortunate, it was all the same deserved for the efforts we put in. And that was it really. Lots of substitutions later on to slow down the tempo of the game. A couple of wee flashes that could have added to the scoreline but the important thing was winning and we did that comfortably, as we advanced to the last 4 to take on Hibernian at Hampden.
Here is how you rated our players as we reached the League Cup semi finals.
Jon McLaughin – 5.6 (6)
A very quiet evening for the keeper as Livingston failed to test the Rangers back line at all. We would often play the ball back to him to start moves off so he had plenty of passes to make, and no errors to speak of. It was one of those “best seat in the house” type of games for McLaughlin.
Nathan Patterson – 5.7 (6)
He is one of the few who can feel as though they put in the right amount of effort in the first half, and the crowd recognised that as they were keen to tell players to get the ball out wide to him for him to make stuff happen. The issue was the balls into the area were not as good as what he has done before, so the output did not much the intent. He would exit early due to picking up a knock which doesn’t seem to be anything too concerning.
Connor Goldson – 7.0 (7)
His defending was fine against a quiet attack, but the thing I want to focus on is his lofted passes. This was far more like the thing in terms of how consistent he was with these. A ball over the top in the first half could have been a magnificent assist had it been properly controlled by Wright (you wonder if Defoe would have just taken the shot on first time like he did against the same opponents last season). But he made other really good long range passes throughout the game, and he was unfortunate that those in front of him couldn’t make good use of it.
Leon Balogun – 6.6 (7)
I mentioned that we were not really up against a tough attack but a lot of that comes down to how and when we deal with any possession that they have, and I thought that Balogun was very good at just nullifying anything in that respect. He kept it really simple, no fuss, and did exactly what you would expect him to do in this sort of game.
Calvin Bassey – 6.0 (6)
He did well in respect of getting forward a lot and showing the sort of intent you would expect him to show, but one of his problems which prevents him from becoming a goal threat from full back is his lack of a right foot. In the first half he cut inside and was forced to take on the shot with his weaker foot, which went miles over the bar. You can forgive him for that, but it begs the question over what he should be doing in those advanced areas. Is he strong enough to bully a defender away and get it onto his left foot for the shot?
Glen Kamara – 6.1 (6)
Very little for him to do in this game when the build up discussion was surrounded by the announcement he had signed a new long term contract with the club. This was extremely welcomed by all Rangers fans given how he has really progressed as a player who we got for (I think) 50 grand and will likely be able to sell for an 8 figure sum. Every now and again he just does that wee feint which, without fail, opens up so much more space.
John Lundstram – 7.1 (7)
When the line up was announced I was really hopeful that Lundstram would be playing in the deeper role, and that turned out to be the case. There were a few occasions in the first half where he would lose the ball unnecessarily, but he won the ball back well enough. The second half was a bit of a revelation though, as he just started to simplify everything and as a result looked far more composed. He grew a lot here, I’m not sure this is the “Barisic v St Mirren” moment for him, but we now know that this is 100% his position and he is now a challenge for Davis for starting.
Joe Aribo – 5.7 (6)
Having looked like one of our better players in this opening period of the season, this game was an opportunity for those who are far less convinced by him to show evidence to support their opinion. It stems back to his issues we’ve referred to when he plays deeper and is not up for putting in the effort to press higher. He loses the ball far too easily which looks so much worse when you’re in the centre of the park. And without any attacking threat, it makes him look far worse.
Kemar Roofe – 5.3 (7)
I find the ratings for Roofe over the last few games very interesting, because it provides evidence for something that a lot of us have talked about with regards to Kemar before. He goes through spells of being really influential but then a period of being a lot more ineffective. That said, he opens the scoring, and it comes from his instinct he has for getting into the right place in the box to capitalise on chances, something I think few, if any, in the league are better at. But we think he should be contributing more than that, because outwith the goal there was very little to write home about.
Alfredo Morelos – 5.7 (7)
He does really well for the second goal, in many ways. You look at his movement when the defender passes back to the keeper, he is already anticipating the potential of a mistake, and when it happens, he doesn’t immediately snap at it, despite all the fans wishing he did, but he sets himself in the confidence he will get the right shot away, and it’s job done as far as the game is concerned. I wish he could be more of a catalyst in games like this though. He has all the potential to be that go to guy, but he just isn’t fully there yet, as far as this season is concerned.
Scott Wright – 4.6 (5)
He is not taking the chance that has been given to him with the absence of Kent. He didn’t do enough against Motherwell, and again he fails to make any real impact on the game to the point he is hooked at the break for someone who immediately does. The chance he has from the long Goldson pass is an example of him not being the finished article, as when he reaches his prime I reckon he will be able to control that and finish it off. I still believe in his potential, but there is still improvement to come.
Ianis Hagi – 7.4 (8) – Man of the Match
To be given the man of the match award after coming off the bench, you really need to make an impression right from the moment you are brought in. Boy, did Hagi do that. As soon as the half starts, you can see his want to get on the ball and do something. This is the guy, of course, who paid for his own travel back to Scotland after his self isolation ended. A few minutes in, he gets the ball in the box, doesn’t swing at it, but gets the ball to the by line and cuts it back for the opener. That’s how you change the emphasis of the game. That’s what you call making a vital contribution. And it’s why he has every chance of being that guy to lean on when we are struggling, because he is the one who has shown time and again he can makes something out of nothing.
James Tavernier – 5.4 (6)
Easy game to just see out for the skipper, an example of how strong a bench we can have when required.
Juninho Bacuna – 5.1 (6)
When he has the ball he can move it quite nicely, whether it be long or short, and it seems to be that the management team sees him, for now, as an attacking option given where he seems to be played when on. I think his ball use suggests he should play a bit deeper to influence more, but we will get a better idea of that if and when he gets his first start.
Fashion Sakala – 5.3 (5)
Simply a substitution that keeps the legs fresh, but he would be hoping to play a bigger role than that going forward. But it’s a lot of competition for places.
Scott Arfield – 5.0 (5)
No chance for him to make an impact with the game done and dusted, it was a rather relaxing 10 minutes or so for us to watch safe in the knowledge we were not going to let the lead go.