As a club, we are very good at honouring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice whilst serving our country. Once again, Ibrox fell silent to remember those heroes, before settling to see if our current footballing heroes could maintain the healthy lead at the top of the Premiership table. Our opponents look to be one of the two teams who will be at the very heart of the relegation battle this season, so the idea that we would fail to restore our 4 point gap at the summit did not seem plausible by any means. How that would be done, however, would be the question, as our team have had a very bad habit of starting domestic games poorly. And, as part of this issue, we have fallen behind in 5 of our last 6 matches, having only managed to rescue a draw from 2 of those. What fans were really keen to see was a strong start, take the lead, control the game and end any question of potential shocks by the half time whistle. Yet again, however, our start was poor. A slack piece of play in the middle allowed the County forwards to break toward goal, and the shot underneath our keeper gave them the lead in the first 10 minutes of the match. Now, given there was plenty of time to come back from this, and given how we have done in recent games from a losing position, we weren’t overly worried about the outcome, but it’s a dreadful habit to have and a dreadful record at the back we are now seeing in comparison to last. Much like the matches against St Mirren and Motherwell, our response was good, and a near post flick on from a corner saw us draw level before we would take the lead thanks to a fantastic strike from distance from a returning superstar. The second half was a strong response from us as well, which has not been quite the case in a number of our games this season, and one of our new signings would properly introduce himself with a strike outside the area to put us two ahead. Some strong work from our captain down the right would result in an own goal to make the points secure, and even though we would concede another goal in the last 10 minutes of the game, we would go into the last international break of the calendar year on top.
As I write this, it has been confirmed that Steven Gerrard has left Rangers to take the job at Aston Villa. In no way did anyone going to the match on Sunday think that they would be witnessing both his, as well as the likes of Gary McAllister, Michael Beale and Tom Culshaw’s last match at the club. I even remember seeing the news that Aston Villa were looking for a new manager whilst at Ibrox prior to kick off, and saying to friends all sorts of names that could well take up that position. I never honestly considered Gerrard to be an option, let alone be the man to take up that role. We are not accustomed to a manager leaving our club during a season unless their services are no longer required by us. Something was being built by this coaching staff, and the plan seemed straight forward. But he has made his choice, and we shall see how he does down south. There are fans who have already shown their disdain for him in making this decision, saying things that seem to completely disregard the achievements from him and his staff as a result of their time here. I am in the camp who will always be thankful for his role in last season, one that I will never forget, and how he has helped return us to where we belong from being so far behind. It should be looked at as an incredible job he has done, although the critics who will point to his cup record make fair points. His long term reputation with our support will very much depend on how we do for the rest of this season, and that is where we must look toward. The noises would suggest that an appointment is likely to happen before our next game, here is hoping whoever it is that takes up the challenge is ready for all that it has to offer.
Here is how you rated our players from a high scoring game against Ross County.
Allan McGregor – 6.0 (6)
Clean sheets seem much harder to come by for us this season, and considering how on form McGregor was domestically last season, you wonder whether questions need asked regarding a dip from last season to this. Clearly the main issues about our concessions are down to defences, but does last season’s Allan save one of those two? Are we far less likely to see him pull off a sensational stop? And perhaps it comes back to the point of rotation. Does he perform better with a run of games in the team?
James Tavernier – 7.2 (8)
Congratulations to our captain on yet another milestone, as he achieved his 100th assist for the club following his corner that was headed in to equalise. That is a stunning return for a full back who has been involved in a number of different eras with this club, and will be around for another one as well. He will get the plaudits for our fourth goal as well, running down the right flank, cutting in and driving a low ball across goal which is diverted into his own net by a County defender. Considering neither of the Highland sides goals came from our left, so you can’t be critical of his defensive play, I’d say it was a good days work all in for our leader.
Connor Goldson – 6.3 (6)
Outwith the one key point I want to bring up, I would say that he was fine and didn’t have a huge amount to do overall in the game. However, when it comes to the first goal, he is one of a number of players that need to be looked at. He plays the County forward onside, and it is an example of him not holding the line with the rest of his defence. His body position is strange as well, although that could be down to him trying to adjust to the sudden counter. But, like I said before, other than this moment I can’t point to an issue from his game here.
Leon Balogun – 6.5 (6)
I wonder if he is someone who escapes more criticism for the opener than what he should? In the one v one situation he finds himself in with Hungbo, he fails to do enough to stop him running toward goal. He is your ideal defender for such a situation, but he failed to stop his man. That could well be hyper critical, and he shouldn’t be seen as the main perpetrator, but it is a point I’ve heard from a few regarding this. I was worried he had picked up a bad knock in the first half when lying in the penalty area as we scored our second, but thankfully he was fine. All the same it was the right call to take him off in the second half to let him recover.
Calvin Bassey – 7.1 (7)
Thought that Calvin was solid at both ends of the field from left back once again. He continues to improve on how he uses the ball when in the final third, and it feels like a goal from a run into the box is getting closer, as he is looking more and more confident when finding himself in that area. As a defender, he does put in a good shift there as well, his pace is not so often discussed but it does help him in this respect. I get why he goes into centre back when Balogun comes off, but it isn’t something that I think he should be asked to do a whole lot. Keep him playing at left back, he is our first choice for that position at the minute.
Juninho Bacuna – 7.6 (8)
I’ve said before that we would need to wait for Bacuna to have played more than 20 minutes a game to properly judge him, well he had the perfect opportunity for us to assess him properly here, and it’s fair to say that he takes that chance. The goal, of course, is a highlight and a really sweet hit from the edge of the area. He is a very attacking player and when allowed to show it he can flourish, this game is a prime example. His overall play in the match supports this, and a lot of it comes down to where he was playing. He clearly benefits more from bringing the ball forward from the middle, as before he was asked to play much higher up which he did not seem as comfortable with. This is where he should be playing.
John Lundstram – 6.0 (6)
A couple of shaky moments in respect of receiving the ball, on his return to the starting line up after Steven Davis showed up very well to reclaim that position as his own. You could see that this was something that John was affected by, as he was trying to do more than just the simple stuff, which he is not able to do as well as Davis. It just doesn’t work when he tries to do anything above the basics, and that mentality over how he handles the pressure of fighting for that place will be interesting to see. Their first goal comes from him losing the ball, but I think the pass he receives is more at fault than he is to be fair to him.
Joe Aribo – 7.6 (7)
His header to pull us level is a really good goal, and a move that we had tried and unlucky not to have converted from not long before this. He is a threat in the box, he has more physicality than people give him credit for, none more so than himself you can’t help but feel. It makes complete sense to play him deeper alongside a Bacuna in a game where we are going to have the majority of the ball and are doing pretty much all the attacking. The only thing I would say in a negative context, however, is his stamina again showed itself to be lower than many others as I thought he tired a lot earlier than most and did very little toward the end of the game.
Ianis Hagi – 6.3 (6)
It’s frustrating that he cannot maintain a level of consistent performance, expecially after how he did in Denmark. I referred to a loose pass that sets Ross County on their way to scoring their first, it was from Hagi, the last player you would expect to do so. It’s a pass that he shouldn’t be making with the opposition players surrounding his intended target, and it is hit far too hard for a player to try and bring down properly. Nothing really fell for him, but his presence in the attacking line helped our overall shape so his value was there all the same. You do wonder whether a new manager may well bring the best out of him by playing him in a manner that possibly suits him more.
Fashion Sakala – 6.4 (7)
Following a couple of games playing in the wider area of the front three, I was interested to see if he would look any better in the centre of the attack following his recent displays. As you would expect, he was quick and that pace was causing the Ross County defence plenty of problems and he had a couple of chances where he was unlucky not to score from. A lack of goals here should not automatically mean taking him out of the starting line up, although whether we set up differently going forward or not will be of interest in regards how we use Fashion.
Ryan Kent – 8.2 (8) – Man of the Match
A magnificent goal to signal his return to the starting line up, and he showed us what we were missing during his recovery spell. The hit from distance loops over the keeper, and is the kind of shot only the most confident of players will take on. To see him back to that level of form is so great to see, and his overall play backs up the idea that he is our most important forward right now. I was surprised he was given the start and thought he would come off the bench as part of his phased return, but this was the right call bringing him off after an hour. A great day, but you worry that his name will be brought up a lot when potential Aston Villa signings are discussed. If so, a very high price should be paid for such a talent.
Kemar Roofe – 4.8 (5)
On at a point where very little is needing chased, but him coming instead of Morelos was interesting, as I maintain that it should be a straight fight between Alfredo and Kemar for the main striker spot, when we require a player to play that way.
Nathan Patterson – 4.6 (5)
Good to see him get a small run out, and him playing at left back would be an interesting one in the future if looking to play both him and Tav. You do wonder whether the County second comes from too much space being left by two players not playing in their primary position though.
Ryan Jack – 4.9 (5)
What a reception he receives when coming on, injury has been a real problem for him of late and the fans have missed him in the midfield. A fit and firing Ryan Jack could make such a huge difference to our midfield, and any prospective manager for us should see him as someone to look toward to add to the midfield.