Our first game of the season at Ibrox saw us take on a St Mirren side who seem to have built a not too bad squad, but our players were far too solid and professional and came away with a solid 3-0 win. We set up differently from the start in terms of our shape, having our attacking midfielder based further up and looking like more of a 4231 shape. This made a lot more sense in terms of having the duo of Jack and Kamara playing together, shape made much more sense for the way we wanted to play, and that was to create a number of chances. Our positive spell lasted longer than in previous competitive matches, and had it not been for a really good display for our former goalkeeper Jak Alnwick, the scoreline would have been a lot more tasty from our point of view. Our defence looked very assured again, far less susceptible to quick counters as we have ways to cover that now. Even with a dip in the early part of the second half, we still came away from this match feeling really good about things.
And a special mention for the coverage of the match today. Given the extraordinary circumstances, my despair over not being at Ibrox was quashed by the excellent way in which RTV brought us the match. The pre and post match discussions were insightful and easy to listen to, and the commentary team was brilliant. Clive Tyldesley is a world renowned commentator and it felt like he had been doing Rangers games for years he was that good. And Kevin Thomson as a co-comm is always honest and has a great understanding of both the game and Rangers. What’s more, there were a few shout out’s for Heart and Hand, which not only gives great joy to everyone involved, whether that be podders or listeners, but also validates the excellent work that has gone into producing the podcast for the past number of years. A truly excellent day. And here is how you rated those who took to the field.
Jon McLaughlin – 6.4 (6)
Coming into the team for the injured Allan McGregor and I thought he looked solid for the brief periods where he had to be busy. There was a cross from the left which he had to get a touch onto I felt as otherwise their attacker may have had an easy tap in, but any shot that was fired toward goal was easily handled by the deputy. The injury news around Allan McGregor would have felt a lot more severe had we not brought in McLaughlin, his presence is really calming for the fans more than anything. If McGregor cannot be involved, we know there is someone ready to step in.
James Tavernier – 6.8 (8)
This was better from the skipper. More attacking threat, gets an assist for the second and crucial goal and was unlucky with a couple of shots that couldn’t quite find the net. When a team is going to sit in like St Mirren did, it makes absolute sense for our deeper players who have attacking intent about them to get forward, and Tav showed a willingness to do this and he could well have scored a goal of the season contender had it not been for the palms of Alnwick. He is good at corner kicks, this must not be forgotten despite the fact we have a lot of players in the club now who are good at set pieces, when there was a time in the recent past where really it was only him who had that ability. And his corner was well placed for Morelos to just sneak in and get his head onto. A much more vibrant display, let’s see him pick and choose his games to be more defensive and more attacking, maybe he just needs to be better at picking those games.
Connor Goldson – 6.8 (7)
Continuing to see a good run of solid straightforward displays at the back, Connor Goldson is setting the pace in terms of most consistent players so far. We saw a bit of the passing magic today as well, when it comes off its excellent to witness. There weren’t many moments where he had to be overly strong in challenges but, like McLaughlin, there was an assurance that he was there and wasn’t in a place where he could make a silly error. He has grown from that and become a vital part of our back line, and really is becoming, I think, indispensable for us. The first teams defensive record in all matches played so far will be a testament to that.
Leon Balogun – 7.2 (7)
He is very quickly becoming a favourite of mine. Sometimes when we play a team who are much further down the pecking order, we can find ourselves playing against a striker who will want to chase down hoofed balls. More often than not these strikers can be quite quick, and it can almost surprise us that suddenly they might have a sniff at goal. What Balogun brings as that speed to keep up with these players, and the strength to really limit any potential that they’ve got to head toward goal. If we are up against that type of system, I think Balogun is the obvious player to feature ahead of Helander. Filip will obviously have a part to play as well of course, but provided everyone is fit, I can see Leon playing a lot of domestic games this season for instance.
Borna Barisic – 7.7 (8)
We are seeing Borna being a bit more bold I think in terms of cutting in onto his right foot and trying a shot. This hasn’t paid off so far but I think it is interesting that he is at least in a place where he doesn’t have to be “safe” anymore. The third goal is very well worked and Borna racing down the flank to knock a ball across for Morelos, very reminiscent of the goal in Porto, shows that he is just as important for these open play counters as opposed to a cross from deep, either a set piece or a longer bit of build up play. It was an ideal game for both full backs to express themselves and they both looked more lively, did the tweak in set up help a lot with this?
Ryan Jack – 6.4 (6)
We can have plenty of debates over the validity of having two deeper midfielders in a game like this, but Ryan Jack will always be someone who plays in any case so it is less on him regarding that discussion. It’s not like he was asked to do a great deal though which is why his rating is lower than others. It isn’t down to the fact that he didn’t play well, more than he didn’t have that much to do. I never really noticed him during the game, other than him chasing down and winning the ball quite well a couple of times. Did his job, but the partnership in the middle seems like overkill.
Glen Kamara – 6.4 (6)
Glen Kamara on the other hand is where we have more of the discussion. Do you really need to play him in this kind of game? Well, if I can refer back to an earlier question, maybe him being there gave us a much better Borna Barisic? Maybe this is the way you get the most of the team, having two guys in their but set up in a way that doesn’t imbalance the side (Aribo being the third cog in the centre just feels off sometimes) and maybe by doing that Kamara actually looks a bit better as there is a better understanding of what he is meant to do. I just wonder whether this is the way we get the most out of him, in a role that ultimately will be forgotten about in the annals of time. Will that kind of deputy afford a podcast all about his Rangers career in the future? Most likely not. But if it means we get our full backs doing what they do best, it’s probably worth it.
Joe Aribo – 6.7 (8)
Playing more advanced and although he often found himself out wide which is an area I don’t like seeing him in, I still think he makes a good contribution to the game and his pass to Barisic to set up the third goal was absolutely brilliant. We are seeing a lot of different parts of Aribo’s game that really make him a must have in the attacking part of the midfield. We’ve had the dribbling, we’ve had the shooting, and now we see the passing. Add to that his willingness to tackle, and his improved strength over the summer. It’s easy to see why Steven Gerrard is as excited about his prospects, and my excitement for him has been growing a lot of late too.
Ianis Hagi – 6.2 (6)
This was another quiet game for him today sadly. His touch on the ball is class and that will always be the case with him I think, but he was drowned out of notice by other players on the field today, which as a result makes us think that he just didn’t do enough in the game. We have seen this with a number of attacking players though, Kent last season for example, so I have every confidence that he will absolutely come onto a game and we will be discussing how he ran the show and played amazing balls and scored great goals, but we are in a period of quiet contemplation regarding his game at this stage.
Ryan Kent – 7.1 (7)
I continue to like the directness of Kent’s game, the fact he is looking a lot sharper on the ball, his head feels more in it and he is not afraid to stand out as the flair player again. That pressure seemed to show for him at points last season, we really did hammer home the fact we paid £7 million for him and that can’t be easy to shoulder in the circumstances. But maybe now we have a lot more star power involved this has given him that license to say “I have the support around me to let me do my game”. He had a shot in the first half which I was certain was in, it would have been a great goal if so, but other than that there was a lot to smile about his display, and there has been during many games early on this season.
Alfredo Morelos – 8.3 (9) – Man of the Match
The biggest surprise of the pre match chat was the inclusion of Morelos. It’s a good job that the manager knows what he is doing at least! I wanted to see just how much Alfredo wanted it today, because it really looked like he was intending to coast it after the Leverkusen game with all the surrounding transfer discussions. But from early on there was a much smarter look about him, a sense of urgency, a feeling of actually wanting to be there and wanting to make an impact. And that he did. All credit should go to him for the opener, it is a smart ball to play with a lot of bodies in the six yard box, if it doesn’t reach your intended target it could well bounce off a defender and go in, and that is precisely what happened. We as fans were desperate for him to score, and he finally got his first for the season from that Tavernier corner which Morelos was in the perfect position to nod in. And not long after he got his second when he moved into the perfect area for Barisic to play the ball across and there Buff was to tap in. I was convinced that he was not going to play this game, but clearly we still have Morelos for a wee while yet, so whilst he is our player, let’s utilise him fully. And when playing like that, he deserved the sponsors man of the match…who was it that sponsored the game again??
Steven Davis – 5.0 (5)
By the time Davis is on the game is done really so you aren’t looking for a great deal from him. It’s quite good to have 5 subs available this season so as to give the squad that freshness, it is nice to see Gerrard using that a bit more when the game is clearly done. Fitting that he should come on given who his sponsor is for the season!
Scott Arfield – 5.0 (5)
Again, he is on at a point where we don’t expect a great deal. But it’s interesting to see that he finds himself further up the park and more out wide again. As previously mentioned, I wonder whether his versatility will be a blessing for us but a curse for him. He would be an option as a third midfielder with a middle three, but if we are not going down that route than we may well see very little of Arfield from the start.
Cedric Itten – 4.7 (5)
Making his debut in a Rangers shirt and although he didn’t really get much of a look in regarding balls in, you can tell straight away that the crosses from deep option will really be utilised by both Tav and BB when you have the giant Swiss in the box. He is huge! And he is going to score a lot of headers for us this season.
Calvin Bassey – 5.5 (n/a)
Best we have seen of Bassey so far, I’d say. Our website had an issue in terms of putting him into the ratings but in a way I think this gives a fairer score to him, he looked a lot more of an attacking threat and you can now fully understand why we would use him as a way to rest Barisic if need be if he has that kind of intent about him. He looked the most impressive of the substitutes today I thought
Brandon Barker – 4.8 (5)
Hasn’t shaved his hair yet despite my advice so until he does so I will always be a bit harsh on him I think. Much like the other players it was difficult to make a mark on the tie when it was pretty much finished by that stage.