Thunder and rain were the hot agendas on the day of this tie, and lighting would strike twice at Ibrox as Rangers would once again triumph 3-0 with the same starting line-up. Although the game was somewhat average from the team, we showed a lot of very good moments and the goals that we scored all had elements of quality about them that should not be disregarded. St Johnstone have a new look about them with Callum Davidson now at the helm, with a reputation that the likes of Kevin Thomson consider “exciting”, and there were clear signs of this as the Perth outfit looked very organised and seemed ready to frustrate whilst having the capability to break on the counter. What we needed was that one moment to ease the nerves and a superb free kick was exactly the recipe. A well worked second goal with a number of players involved, and a well timed third from a corner made the game a procession, with a number of subs coming on and new toys getting a run out. The pleasing thing about wins like that is you do that while playing, at best, ok enough. It keeps the pressure on others, it gives you that feeling of invincibility.
I did, however, think that some players performed a lot better than they previously showed, a sign perhaps that the slight change in shape is registering more with them now. And this formation tweak has allowed other players to really flourish, particularly in the wide areas. We got a proper glimpse at our squad depth tonight, and even if the majority didn’t have games that they will want to write home about, there is a feeling watching this squad that every single player is on board, that every single person who is part of this machine is working toward the same goal. A really strong week for our side, but with everything else going on, the time to really take advantage of that is now. Kick on, and give the other teams something to properly worry about. Here is how you rated our players against St Johnstone.
Jon McLaughlin – 7.5 (7)
This was a busier evening for McLaughlin who pulled off a couple of really good saves at very important points of the match. He prevented a shot from young Hendry early on before pulling off an excellent reflex save in the second half to keep the clean sheet that is becoming very common for our side these days. McLaughlin is so opposite to McGregor in his manner in the box. He is not a shouter, he is not a ‘personality’ as such. What he is, is a composed presence at the back who is not going to be beaten easily. The debate over whether McGregor is still our number 1 is a credit to the way Jon has conducted himself of late. Allan is still our first choice keeper in my opinion, but we are now in a position where we can afford to let him recover properly rather than rush him back. It’s a really comfortable place to be.
James Tavernier – 6.8 (7)
It’s a very interesting parallel between our right hand side and our left hand side regarding how we saw our overall performance. We had another assist for Captain Tav in this game and yet for much of the remainder he seemed fairly absent. I wonder if you look at what happened on the other flank that gives a big clue as to why. Kamara was a lot more toward the left which allowed Barisic the freedom to drive. Tavernier’s equivalent, Jack, was much more central. This doesn’t offer the same protection to Tav and as a result he must be more disciplined in when to move forward. I’m not saying that Jack needs to offer his skipper more cover, because we still need someone in the centre so that is fine, I just believe that as a result of that positional choice for Jack it means we are seeing a more defensive Tavernier. I actually think he has really improved as a defender as time has gone on, but the threat of his delivery does then become more limited to set pieces.
Connor Goldson – 6.9 (7)
Solid again from the vice captain. A tougher job with a more fluid opposition attack to contend with which had pace to it, but the way he marshalled the defence in both halves was really strong. I also liked his passing, that cross field diagonal to find the advancing Barisic is a really good weapon for us to utilise as much as possible, but only when Goldson is on form. We have seen him attempt this when he has not been as consistent and it shows in the output of his distribution. But, for now, it is definitely working, as is Goldson’s overall game really. Whether it be with Balogun, Helander, Katic or The Fridge, big Connor will do the job.
Leon Balogun – 6.3 (6)
A bigger test for Leon and one which he showed the war wounds for. A few bangs to the head and some nasty falls suggested the reason he came off at half time was due to one bang too many, but by the sounds of it his departure was more muscle related which is also fair enough. I would maybe let him rest for a week or so now, we can afford to mix it up, because he really puts himself about as a defender and we should look after him.
Borna Barisic – 8.8 (8) – Man of the Match
We are really lucky to have a left back who is so perfect for the style we play as Borna Barisic is. He has that attacking instinct which means that he doesn’t need to rely on pace, because he isn’t the quickest full back, but he knows the right place to be in so often. His average position tends to find him in line with the half way line, back and forth and back and forth he will roam on that side, doing both his defensive job (which he is getting so much better at) and his attacking duties which always give us a chance of a goal. He is brilliant at free kicks, his goal was a prime example of the ball being in the perfect place for a left footed curler, and that was exactly what he came up with. I’m sure there were quite a few of us who were confident he would bury it. And then his assist, well I think he is reading these articles (HI BORNA I LOVE YOU!!!) because I mentioned before about being more diverse with his deliveries and he did just that, so reminiscent of Parkhead, cutting it back for Kent to slot in. The talent is there, but so is the brain. He is a great thinker of the game, knows his role perfectly and as a result we are a strong unit. It is little wonder he has been so highly rated for his display, and I have no interest in putting a price tag on him because he is far too important for us.
Ryan Jack – 6.6 (6)
As I mentioned when talking about Tavernier, Jack does not give the same level of full back cover as his midfield partner. You could almost say that Kamara was “Standing With the Man in the Middle” (Michael Jackson eat your heart out), but this will be deliberate move by the coaching staff to have someone there who will provide that sense of control. Problem is, is that really necessary in a game like this? Probably, actually, because St Johnstone did have their moments and we didn’t have the best of performances as a unit. And we maybe look better if we have more control in that area, and a lot of that responsibility falls onto Jack if we play that way. Would we as a team, and Jack as an individual, benefit more by having one of the attacking midfielders drop into that centre and allow our deeper midfielders to primarily provide the full back cover? Does that give our team more balance? It’s one to consider perhaps.
Glen Kamara – 7.4 (7)
The critique regarding Kamara in recent games is this lack of understanding what his role actually is. Why have two guys play right on top of each other when the game really should only require one person for that job? Well this time that role was different and it really worked. Composed on the ball because there was less to think about, less of a cluster of team mates around him, he got on with his job and looked really good doing it. And this was the point I was making before, it’s less remarkable to do that job but we as fans will still notice it and recognise the importance of that presence. We may have been surprised by the figures quoted regarding a potential move away from Ibrox, but if that is what Kamara can give to the team week in week out, that would be the minimum asking price.
Joe Aribo – 7.0 (7)
Another string to the bow of Joe Aribo, which at this point is now a Harp given the number of strings on it, is his heading. A really clever corner routine where he would run to the near post and glance the ball in at the start of the second half to end the game as a contest. What did Joe Aribo do outwith that? Not a huge amount. But what we are seeing is oppositions recognise his threat, which means it opens things up more for our other attackers, or at the very least means they need to have pretty much everyone back defending (not that that is much different from what we are normally used to dealing with). Is this enough to really make a mark in the biggest of games, however? That is a tricky one and I will be really interested to see how he handles that competition for places when we have new recruits up to speed and they will be challenging for places.
Ianis Hagi – 5.8 (6)
Good players will always have dips in form. Not one player has remained consistently at their best, not even Lionel Messi. But the reason why Messi and Ronaldo are seen as the greatest on the planet is because even when they are not at that peak level, they still have moments of quality in a game. Ianis Hagi is 21 years old and is still developing. His touch on the ball is not where we need it to be right now. His decision making when it comes to shooting leaves a bit to be desired. I wonder whether the fluidity that we need from the set up we have at the moment is something that he is not maybe enjoying as much as it perhaps looked during some of the friendlies. Yet, despite all of that, he plays a magnificent pass to Barisic which leads to the second goal on the stroke of half time. There is that phrase we are so used to hearing in football, “form is temporary, class is permanent” and this is the reason why we should expect to see Hagi continue to start…for now. There is of course a point where some players will be pushing for that starting slot and a decision might need to be made over whether Ianis is doing enough to retain that spot. We can only hope that this dip will reach an end point soon, because an on form Hagi will cause this league no end of problems.
Ryan Kent – 7.4 (7)
I continue to find myself really enjoying the work that Ryan Kent is putting into our attack. A first time finish from Borna’s cut back, really well executed and deserved goal for the talisman. That image of him bombing down the left hand side and driving the ball across goal is one I take great joy from, because it’s good football on show and Ryan Kent is a really good footballer. And you can say exactly the same about what he does on the right too, I can’t imagine the fear some defenders will have when they try to work out what he is going to do next. He is still showing a high performance level, long may it continue.
Alfredo Morelos – 6.5 (6)
No goals for the Colombian but he still did the job that the main striker role is requiring for this team, coming deep to receive the ball, asking questions of the central defenders over whether to follow him or let him go and have free reign of the ball. I like him for this role, because he is still a goal threat but is athletic enough and capable enough to do more with it. If we are up against a three man back line who are going to be of the mindset “YOU SHALL NOT PASS”, then that’s fine, Alfie will go looking for the ball and ask the question, and then Kent can run in behind and that’s you screwed. That’s why he works in this team, and I’m really glad that there is no suggestion anymore that there is an attitude problem for him.
Filip Helander – 6.7 (6)
A half time change that just shows our strength in depth. One international defender replacing another, and we looked just as assured in defence when big Fil entered the fray. You maybe don’t consider pace as being the primary attribute of the Swede but the big counter attacking chance St Johnstone had was usurped by the magnificent intervention by Helander. It was a classic piece of defending with a well time challenge. I would be more than happy to see him play the next few games, give him some time to really get a good run in the team, and then we have a really great place to be for our back two, whoever that may be.
Scott Arfield – 5.4 (5)
I’m sure there is a game show to be had when it comes to Arfield coming on as a sub. Let’s play “Where’s Arf!?”, the show that asks you to work out which part of the field Scott Arfield is going to play in. Will it be wide? Will it be 10? Could he find himself in the centre of the park, or even a deeper role? We changed the shape of the team when the quad sub happened and Arfield was in the role of attacking from deep. Very little came about from it, but for me this is what his role should be and I would be frustrated if the mix and match of super sub Scott was to continue.
Cedric Itten – 5.5 (5)
Looking a little bit sharper which was encouraging, was looking to have a few shots at goal which didn’t quite come off but I thought it was good to see a bit more of him here. I’ll be interested to see whether he is going to be as good at coming deep as I mentioned regarding Morelos. He is definitely a better physical match up for your typical SPFL centre back and he will not put up with any nonsense. I’m still excited for the prospect of deep crosses onto his noggin.
Steven Davis – 5.5 (5)
Och, it just feels like we are having the farewell tour for Steven Davis. We are only really going to see him as a sub when the game is finished, or maybe the occasional start when we fancy playing slightly differently from what we are doing currently. Well, if it gives us a trophy at the end of the day, it’ll be worth it for us and the midfield legend.
Kemar Roofe – 5.4 (5)
Good to see him get a run out and it was interesting in terms of where he played. Because of his versatility, you can see him play in a few positions in the attack, but the clue over what his primary role will be was perhaps found here, as someone who will not be the main striker but use his speed and shooting to come in off the left. Didn’t get a foot hold in the game but you wonder what he will offer when he starts…