Following our exit from the League Cup in midweek, the team needed to respond in a manner that would put fans fears of the team entering yet another mid-season slump to rest. It was vital that we started the game on a strong footing and prove that it was simply an anomaly on Wednesday, and the worst thing we could do would be to concede an early goal. So of course, we concede an early goal. Once again a lack of closing down in the wide defensive area made it an easy start for Motherwell, who could just sit back and play (genuinely) a 5-5-0 for the vast majority of the tie. This was not something the team was able to work out how to counter, and as a result the performance in the first half was another turgid looking one, with the safe passing in the middle that we absolutely hate seeing coming back into the mix. The rest of the half saw very little in the way of clear cut chances being created. When we hit that point, we need to try something different, we need to try and be more inventive, and we need to put other players into the team who are capable of offering that different dimension when a team is so compact against us.
And, all credit to the manager, that is exactly what we did. Three substitutions, all of whom made the impression on the game that you would want them to. And three goals that came about from opportunistic situations, very much of our own making, meant we secured a comeback win which, not only would we not have gotten the win in last season, but gives the fans real hope that this season does feel different. That this season we have a squad that can battle in many different ways. That this season, of all seasons, we have a more mature side and coaching staff who are willing to adapt. That is why we feel as confident as we do, and why the gap at the top of the table stands at a staggering 16 points, every single one of which is richly deserved.
Here is how you rated our players from Saturday’s victory
Allan McGregor – 6.1 (6)
A keeper will always end up taking flak for conceding a goal, even if the majority of the issue is down to the defence in front of him. Although from this point Motherwell did not threaten with any real attack, what I was a big fan of was when we went ahead, and the game management that he put into place which helped slow the game right down, much in the same way that Motherwell did as well, which makes their moaning over the way we saw out the game all the more fun, and no goalkeeper in the country is better than Allan McGregor at that. It’s when he collects the ball in the box and drops to his knees as though he has grasped at it above a number of attackers, despite no one being around him. The dramatic nature of it is not only very funny, but it can really annoy the other side which in itself is a mind game that he so often comes out on top in.
James Tavernier – 6.1 (6)
His man is the one who runs in at the back post to tap in the opening goal, Tav should be closer to him there. I don’t know whether that is him just switching off at that moment or whether there is a more serious issue of just lacking in that defensive ability when it really matters in that situation. For me, I think the issue is around his concentration. I say that because he has improved defensively and I think the ability is there, but he just doesn’t think so much about doing the work at the back as he does about going forward. That can be exposed when a team is savvy enough. He had a great chance to equalise with a back post header which he could not convert, so uncharacteristic of his game of late. Not the level we are now used to, but when you consider he is directly involved in 29 goals so far this season, we can absolutely let him off this time.
Connor Goldson – 6.2 (6)
So often I feel like the passing of Goldson is a fine indicator of how the team is performing. When he is playing smart balls and the occasional diagonal comes off, it tends to mean that we are playing well. If it’s predictable and far too often over hit long balls then we are not. The latter was very much in effect in the first half, not good at all and it got quite frustrating how often the attempts to the small striker up top felt like a cop out. This changed in the second half thankfully and it was more about the straightforward balls and letting others take on the distribution responsibility.
Filip Helander – 6.1 (7)
Helander returned to the starting line up for the first time since having to isolate, and his presence in the centre was a very calming one I thought. After the initial concession, we calmed down at the back bar one or two brief opportunities which we handled, and I thought that Fil was really important for that, even just for the fact that we know he will perform his defensive duties with little fuss. Nothing that particularly stood out from him, but for me I am slightly surprised that Helander’s rating is lower than Goldson’s here. I don’t believe it should be much higher, but I would have thought it would have been more than Connor’s as I thought there were less frustrating moments from the Swede.
Borna Barisic – 5.6 (6)
The blame for the goal we lose early on falls mainly at the door of Barisic I feel. Last time we talked about whether Borna in the team would be a better defensive left back option than Bassey, and in the first six minutes we got the answer that no, it would have been much of a muchness either way. He needed to close down the right sided Motherwell player, to not allow him to play the perfectly weighted pass across the box which he had so much time to do. He tried to amend this with some crosses from the left but the problem with that was it is no use when there is no suitable target for them. His cross should have been converted by Tavernier of course, and he did try find the obvious target of Roofe, but it was more in hope than expectation. Again, like a few players who have not been like that of late, it was a reverting to type kind of display at times.
Scott Arfield – 5.1 (5)
A lot of the issue we maybe had with our first half play was that we were acting like we still had Morelos in the team, who would come deep to collect balls and set moves going. Without that, it just felt like the only option for the midfield was to pass the ball around the back. This could have been solved had Arfield taken ownership of this and brought the ball forward from the midfield more, he just did not do that and his role in this game felt quite confusing. He was just sitting there in the middle without the same drive or energy we have seen from him before, it was little wonder that he was hooked at the point he was.
Steven Davis – 6.3 (7)
The final ball was questionable at times in the first half but there were still some good pieces of play that was being set by him, including a great chipped ball that could have been converted in had Kent’s body angle been better. I think the second half is much better with a lot of help from Davis, who seemed to take ownership of the midfield, where much of the problems lay, and looked to bring a lot more of the players into the action, and given the players he was setting up, this worked a lot better. Often the players around you can make you look better, and this was shown in both ways over the course of 90 minutes when you view Steven Davis.
Glen Kamara – 5.2 (5)
This is not his kind of game really. It does not take away the quality of player he has become, but when a team is sitting that far off you, you need a more attacking threat than what Kamara is. It’s almost as though he is a better player when he is pressed, or rather, when he is not able to see an obvious gap to exploit, he can sometimes take the safe option which is that frustrating passing in the middle. If a team is going to attack you, he is your man to play, no question about it. If a team is going to sit in and you can go with another attacking option, then you should look elsewhere, like the player we replaced him with at half time for instance.
Kemar Roofe – 7.6 (8) – Man of the Match
His quality continues to show, and we really needed it in this game. Numerous chances to score before he finally did open the scoring, which he absolutely earned for his effort. The movement once again looked really smart, although that final bit of grit took it’s time to show. He had a near post chance that was well saved, and a header that glanced just wide, but he was in the right place to receive the ball from the by line to smash in the equaliser, at which point the confidence that we would get the winning goal increased 10 fold. He did not score the goal that gave us the lead but he did grab the goal that finished things off, with the ball falling to him in the centre of the box and smashing it into the top corner. He has quietly crept up to be the most important attacking player in terms of output, and he puts in the effort tot merit this claim. He is so important to what we do and I hope we can have him for a long time as I think he is coming into his peak, what a player to have in his prime.
Jermain Defoe – 5.6 (6)
Totally understood why we started Defoe, but the problem was it just was not working for him, and that’s not totally his fault. He needs the ball delivered to his feet in the box. However you may do that, if you can, he will put the ball in the net. But we kept trying to cross in from wide or over the top, asking way too much of him, and as a result he only had one real chance in the box which couldn’t find the net. By all means, play him in games like this, but have the right guys around him and the right set up for him to thrive. More often than not we should not go down that route, but if we do, there is an obvious “cheat code” that you can implement that will see us score.
Ryan Kent – 5.6 (6)
He assists the equaliser, so a lot of what I say about him is almost out done by that fact. Nevertheless, for a lot of this game, we needed more. He would find himself in front of 5 defenders and decide to shoot from distance (something he has had little success on over the years) rather than dribble past players which is what you think of when you think of Kent. He needs to get a goal early doors to get the best performance levels, a confidence issue that needs to be addressed so he can play more of a pivotal role in games of this scenario. This is not to say he is not putting in effort, he absolutely is and will track back which is great, but he is not in the team to do that, and he should be receiving the same level of critique as what Alfredo Morelos has of late. That said though, he does assist the equaliser, a smart cut back as he knows Roofe can smash it home. That set us on our way, so well done Ryan.
Joe Aribo – 6.6 (7)
A lot of criticism came Aribo’s way after the St Mirren game, as he should have done far more in an attacking sense. It was a bold call by Steven Gerrard to put him in, but it absolutely paid off as Aribo played so much better this time around. The role was clear, be that creative player from deep, and he did that. He received the ball in the middle and would drive forward, looking to cut the ball back a few times, and his passing was a lot more like the thing as well. He even gets a late assist as he provides Roofe with the ball to finish the game off. That’s how we want him to play when he is in the team, that’s the marker. That was much better.
Ianis Hagi – 6.6 (7)
I was desperate for Hagi to come into this game, and was surprised he did not arrive at half time. But he came on with plenty of time to influence things, and he made a big difference. The reason why myself and so many other fans wanted to see him come in was because we know that his main asset is finding those gaps against a packed defence. He did that, and he found Itten’s head to give us the lead. Another assist to add to his tally, and a point very much proven. Give him time to make that impact and he will do it more often than not, and I think that when a team is going to set up like Motherwell did (maybe not quite as extreme as that but still) then there is no better player to have in the side, either from the start or off the bench early on, than Ianis Hagi.
Cedric Itten – 6.9 (7)
You could just imagine the noise of a full Ibrox when Ced head’s the ball in to give us the lead. It was loud enough from the players and staff in the ground as it was, but even so, that would have been some moment to be a part of. Another player who was obvious to bring in, his aerial presence and off the ball runs were clearly going to help, so yet again this was a very successful substitution from the manager. In that right space to grab that goal, and he is beginning to climb that goalscorer ladder, and has a knack for being in the right place at the right moment. He will do well for us.
Bongani Zungu – 5.2 (6)
With the lead taken, we bring on Bongani to shore things up and see it out. That is what is job will be for a lot of this season, to just offer that extra solidity when we have a narrow lead. Like so many of the squad who are not immediately in the section of “constant starter”, a great option to have.