Club football returned after an international break which, for many of us, felt extremely long for a number of well known reasons. But during this gap, we knew that we could look forward to seeing our side back in action soon enough. And an early Saturday kick off meant that wait need not have lasted any longer than what it needed to be, albeit we have in the past found earlier starts in games like this to be more difficult. All the same, the confidence in our squad was high following our previous league match, and the expectation was we would win to move ourselves top of the table by full time. We were up against a St Johnstone side who have certainly benefited from being very well coached, although whether they would feel the effects of losing a couple of important players from their successful cup team of last season or not we would wait to find out. We put out a strong side, a few changes from the norm at the back (with one very significant omission in Connor Goldson, who missed his first game in 82 due to forced self isolation) but with a front six that a large number of fans would say is our strongest at the moment, we could have no excuses for not going to MacDiarmid Park and bringing three points back to Glasgow. The first half was not one to remember for us, or indeed any self respecting football fan. A lack of real opportunities, save for a shot on the edge of the box that was palmed away, and a succession of corners that were well defended. Too many of our attacking players did not start the game brightly enough, and the intentions of St Johnstone were to keep things very tight at the back and prevent the chance for killer balls to be run onto, therefore we needed far more from the front three (and the midfield) in terms of chance creation.
And not long into the second half, the game plan of Callum Davidson looked to pay dividends, as a ball over the back of our defence was latched onto and converted into the net. The defending for this was uncharacteristically poor, and we were too easily caught out by pace. What was needed from the team at this point was a reaction, and for much of the rest of this game, we were far closer to what we would expect. There was an overall intensity that put us on the front foot, and it wasn’t long before we would draw level. We would be awarded a penalty as our wide attacker was brought down whilst looking to try and find an opening, and it was dispatched down the middle before tempers began to boil over. This was the hunger we were looking for, no one pushes us around, no one tries to get in our face and gets no response. Other than a couple of efforts that would go high and wide for them, we had all the chances afterward, playing better, but without that clinical finish. There was a fear that the momentum we had built up would be lost when our defender had to depart, but not long after a moment of brilliance from our captain would put us ahead with a long range shot that the keeper could not reach, with it dipping nicely into the inside of the net. St Johnstone had some chances to snatch a late equaliser, and even brought up their keeper for a corner right at the end (that’s twice in two games teams have done this, I guess that comes with being champions) and even though fans remembered the ridiculous cup game from last season at the moment, history would not repeat itself. Many people will call that the kind of game that helps you win the league. We won’t remember too much from this one, but it could well prove very important.
Here is how you rated our players from our away win over St Johnstone.
Jon McLaughlin – 5.8 (6)
I think we will see this quite often, where a weekend prior to a European match sees McLaughlin play. That said, we certainly had no issue with a consistent number of appearances from McGregor last season. It was an eventful game for a keeper who actually didn’t make a save. Less than 10 minutes in and he picks up a booking for bringing down O’Halloran, when I felt that he didn’t need to come out so far in that situation. And the goal we lose, as much as the afore mentioned player does well in the box, we do not deal with it defensively and it is a tough ask for him. He gets some credit for closing down when St Johnstone looked to have chances in the box, but other than that it wasn’t the most superb performance, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask whether we need to have this rotation policy unless there is clear evidence that McGregor cannot play a number of consecutive games now, which I would be surprised by.
James Tavernier – 7.8 (8) – Man of the Match
I heard a phrase after the game about Tavernier which made me chuckle, but at the same time has an element of truth to it. “He is our best attacker and best defender.” This was of course in reference to us potentially having our two main centre backs out for Thursday’s match against Lyon, but whether you see him as a defender or an attacker, we can all agree that he is a leader. And when we needed players to step up after going behind, he was the one who stepped up. Having received the ball about 25 yards out, in space, he shaped up as though he was taking a free kick, and looped the ball over Clark into the net. It was a great piece of ingenuity, and absolutely deliberate. What’s interesting to note is he took responsibility for moves on the field, even overruling the coaching staff as he felt doing something else would work better. And ultimately, he was right. He has earned that right to make those calls. This game will be remembered for his goal. It should also be remembered for his leadership.
Leon Balogun – 6.3 (6)
It feels so weird to not be writing about Goldson at this point, but his forced absence meant that for the first time, Balogun would play on the right hand side of the central defence. Having played so well at right back last time out, this was not the same level of dominant performance. He would have a chance from a corner that would be headed wide (taking on the Goldson role in that respect) and was often the player to start moves from the back, having played the most passes in the game. From a defensive perspective he actually does well for the majority, winning the vast majority of his battles. Where he is for their goal is a bit of a mystery though, so that is something that will concern. He will be needed for the foreseeable by the looks of things, I have faith in him.
Filip Helander – 5.5 (6)
A tough afternoon in many respects for the big man. The hero from a couple of Sunday’s ago, he also had more success than not in handling his one on ones, but he is most at fault for us going behind with a mistake which is so unlike him. He fails to deal with the initial ball over the top and makes the wrong decision in regards to when he makes his challenge. As a result, he stumbles, leaving O’Halloran with time to convert. Some suggestions that this was the start of what turned into his injury, although it’s far more likely his later defensive tussle was the cause as he goes down almost straight away. At the time of writing it is unclear how long Helander will be absent for. Any amount of time is too long though, as he is still one of our best defenders (many would say the best) even though this was not his finest game, far from it.
Calvin Bassey – 5.9 (6)
The great thing about Bassey’s improvement this season is it allows us to give Barisic the chance to rest up a bit following his international exploits. He put in a right proper shift as well, his pace and physicality used in equal measure. He wasn’t given a chance to put in as many good crosses as in other games, but against a tougher right back than in previous games, he stood up to that task reasonably well, although a fair number of attacks from St Johnstone came down that side.
Glen Kamara – 6.5 (7)
A game of simplicity for Kamara whose use of the ball was consistent and he was near impossible to beat in a duel. His job is not that of trying to get things going in attack, although he did move forward with the ball a few times quite nicely. He would receive the ball and move it on, just doing his job efficiently whilst being so hard to come up against, as he has been for a long time now. I’m excited to see him play on Thursday, it’s the sort of night he should absolutely relish.
Steven Davis – 6.5 (7)
The midfield sweeper, constantly recovering the ball in our own half, finding himself in so many different areas of the field, and looking as fresh at full time as he did at the start of the game. His use of the ball, much like Kamara, was solid overall, but some key passes in the final third were perhaps a bit too rash at times. All the same, he continues to show just how crucial he is to our set up, and with a number of games coming up over the next few weeks, how we manage him is going to be very important.
Joe Aribo – 7.0 (7)
I’ve often stated my dislike for Aribo playing in the middle when it is unlikely to see him get forward an awful lot, as I feel his defensive output leaves a lot to be desired. What he did in this game, and in fairness to him a number of previous games, shows that he does in fact have the will to put in that kind of shift. This was the case when we went ahead, he supported Bassey and put in a number of good challenges at the back, as well as looking to bring the ball forward. He played smart, he was composed, and it’s probably one of the better games in midfield he has played, when looking to play more conservatively. He still tried to create things going forward, he would find himself in a number of different areas of the park. He has improved a lot physically, and I think he has been one of, if not the most consistent performers for us so far this season.
Kemar Roofe – 6.3 (7)
He was the forward who at least was trying to find a moment of magic and put us ahead. A shot in the first half just outside the box was palmed away by Clark in what was our only real moment of the opening 45. You felt that if he was going to get a chance in the box, with even half a second of time to set himself, he would convert, but their defence made that very difficult and as a result it meant he was forced to shoot from distance. Our penalty award saw him step up to take the responsibility, and I’m not sure there are many who are a fan of the way he runs up to a penalty kick. But, it was straight down the middle and it got us straight back into the game having gone behind not long before. He isn’t someone who will hide under pressure. And he continues to show that he is someone who needs to feature a lot.
Alfredo Morelos – 5.6 (6)
Those who will want to defend Morelos will say that we didn’t create enough chances for him. If you look back on the game, I’m not sure that necessarily rings true. I’m also uncertain about whether he really worked hard enough to find the opener, and only really started to show anything once we were behind. The manager deciding to take him off for Sakala, instead of Roofe, probably backs this up. It doesn’t mean he shouldn’t start on Thursday. In all likelihood we will see him put on a show that night as it’s where he thrives. But it wasn’t his day here.
Ryan Kent – 6.2 (7)
I feel that a 7 is possibly too nice on him, yet I feel that giving him a 6 would be far too harsh. So in weighing it up, I felt the effort he put in from the moment we went behind deserved the rating I gave, although by the looks of it many of you felt his performance up to that point was what stood out more. It’s not down to lack of effort, obviously, but again we didn’t see him at his best in the first half. Some might have wondered whether his hamstring issue was still playing a part in that, but I highly doubt he would have played here had that still been a problem. I’d rather focus on what he did well. He won the ball a lot in the second half. He closed players down brilliantly, and he made more of an effort to bring the ball into the box with him. As a result, we won the penalty to get us back level. The second goal is all about the finish but it would be remise of me not to state that Kent does feed Tavernier the ball. Compared to other games he has had for us this season, this was far better.
Jack Simpson – 5.0 (5)
You wonder whether this is the chance Simpson needs to establish himself as a Rangers defender. There is every chance Helander is missing for a lengthy period of time, and that will mean that Jack will become the back up centre back. He hasn’t really done an awful lot up to now to suggest that he will look assured at the back in any game, so whether he can turn that perception around during this next period we will wait and see. Players from previous eras have had slow starts before turning out to be icons, so let’s wait and see and give him a proper chance to show it. It could well be sink or swim time.
Fashion Sakala – 4.8 (5)
This was probably an occasion where he was thankful for the offside flag. A great ball in from the right was right at the feet of the onrushing Sakala who hit a shot straight at Clark when it looked easier to score. The linesman raising his flag meant it would not have counted anyway, although he should still be disappointed all the same that he did not find the net. But in that brief appearance he showed some good pace which could prove useful if you’re looking to get in behind a defence.
John Lundstram – 4.9 (5)
This was another sub appearance where he did something very good to give encouragement to the idea he can play a part for us. This time it was a run from the middle to the right before a really well played ball to the afore mentioned Sakala. It was good play, and he just looks that little bit fitter as well. He just needs to keep improving.