Ahead of our Scottish Cup tie on Sunday, we had a dress rehearsal (even though the kits will be different) against St Johnstone on Wednesday in a match that the manager admitted afterward was managed purely in preparation for Sunday, with a number of regular starters missing and a lot of substitutions made to keep the legs as fresh as possible for the match that really matters for us now, as opposed to this match which has no real significance for our team. And, in all honesty, the tie played out in that manner, with very few moments of actual footballing quality and the aftermath of the game being dominated by a referee performance that left both sides bemused. St Johnstone started the game well and had a good spell of pressure from the off, but our make shift defence held firm before Rangers then took control of the game, without producing anything of major note.
The second half followed a similar pattern, but the only real moment of proper footballing quality came with our goal, a great run and finish from our recent recruit who continues to show great promise. That was, however, the point where the games tide turned and St Johnstone again exerted pressure, which led to a penalty incident which was initially not given before the referee decided to award a spot kick, presumably because of the insistence of the Perth players. The decision was then retracted after consultation with his linesman, a truly baffling incident. But, St Johnstone did indeed win a penalty in the last stages of the tie, following some poor work from us in that scenario of the match, which they converted for Rangers to only gain the 1 point from MacDiarmid Park, retaining our unbeaten record all the same. From this game, we know that we need to be at our best to be sure of victory against a well coached team with players who can cause us issues. We also know that players who got a rare appearance on this occasion have work to do to be considered worthy of a regular start (bar the obvious exception), but that does not make the managers decision for this a mistake. Games in the league that has been won for over a month can afford to have these tactics.
Here is how rated our players from our draw at St Johnstone.
Jon McLaughlin – 6.9 (7) – Man of the Match
You would normally have concern over a back up keeper coming in, but that is never the case when it’s McLaughlin. Not only did he make some decent stops, particularly at the start of the game, but his awareness and use of the ball with his feet is a real asset of his in comparison to who he is up against, and you are talking about a total professional when it comes to his attitude. He deserves great credit for his role for us this season.
James Tavernier – 5.3 (6)
The captain is back! An unused sub in our most recent Old Firm success, Tavernier returned to the starting line up to get minutes under his belt as he will be playing a lot more toward the end of the season due to Patterson’s ban now being confirmed. In his hour on the field, he did not produce the same performance level as he has throughout the season. This should be no surprise though, given the length and nature of his lay off.
Connor Goldson – 6.0 (6)
Even though the armband was back with the first choice captain, it will not stop Goldson continuing to be that leader at the back. Again, without anything that particularly stood out, and to be honest he should share the blame for the defensive shakiness we had, his consistency again should be applauded massively. It is now at the point where he must, in my opinion, play every game for the rest of the season, he has gotten this far.
Jack Simpson – 5.3 (5)
A first start in a Rangers jersey for one of our January recruits, and it is fair to say the other deadline day signing we made has made a much bigger impression than Simpson. All the same, this was an opportunity for Jack to show what he can do. It’s really interesting, some have suggested he did very well, but (I believe) the majority are of the opinion this was a less than convincing debut. It might be down to the fact that we are used to Helander’s style of defending, but his use of the ball and a somewhat haphazard approach to defending is something that would suggest that work is there to be done to get this lad to the stage where we can comfortably play him.
Borna Barisic – 6.0 (6)
Like so many of the players who you would consider as normal starters, this was a performance that was not taken out of 1st gear. In comparison to a much better game against Celtic, his game, both going forward and going back, just wasn’t as solid this time. One of a number who you would expect to start and put a lot more into the game on Sunday.
Glen Kamara – 5.4 (6)
Glen is another who was not at the same level, and this is fairly common for him to do this in the games that are not considered “big”. I have no doubt he will be so much better in the Cup game, but Kamara has a habit of doing quite little in games that don’t really need his top attributes, such as this game. It does beg the question of whether Bongani Zungu could have played this game instead, to see whether he is worth carrying on with for next season. The fact he was not involved (injury or otherwise) and him now being suspended until right before the seasons end, suggests Zungu will not be challenging Kamara for that midfield spot next season.
Steven Davis – 5.7 (6)
You can make a lot of changes to a team but you still need to have Steven Davis in there as it just wouldn’t feel right and proper otherwise. It shows the faith that the manager has in him, and that he has in himself, to not tire at the late stages of the season. He is, as has been said of him before, the quintessential professional.
Ianis Hagi – 5.0 (6)
This was a different formation from the manager and this really intrigued me, as part of what I thought was a really interesting decision regarding our front line, as I wondered whether we would get to see Ianis play in that natural central attacking midfield position. It did not turn out to be the case though, and it was clear that was expected was for the attacking players to be quite fluid in their positioning. I think the time is coming to accept that the dream of making Hagi the out and out playmaker is gone, and his role with Rangers under Steven Gerrard will be as it is now, a player who can feature on the right, who can go through spells of being exceptional but that is not happening throughout the season. This, another game that didn’t see a huge contribution from him.
Scott Wright – 6.7 (8)
Signing young players can be a risk. You don’t know whether they will replicate the form and early promise when making the step up to play for the Rangers first team. We have seen it in recent years with other examples of young guys who come in with a real promise to them, but can’t live up to those expectations. Scott Wright is showing no sign of not being able to hack it. In a game that had little moments of quality, Wright produced that one special play. Collecting the ball, driving forward before placing it past the St Johnstone keeper, this was a superb goal. He looks like he really wants to get into the first team on a regular basis, and to do it now. That is the desire you need along with that talent to truly make it.
Kemar Roofe – 5.0 (6)
Two moments I want to point out. In the first half, he played a lovely chip over the top from the halfway line that so nearly led to a goal had the bounce been more favourable, a very clever piece of play from Roofe. In the second half, with full time mere moments away, he attempts a shot from the halfway line which goes horribly wrong, allowing time for St Johnstone to create another attack which resulted in the penalty. Not the best game management from Roofe it is fair to say. A moment of madness from a clearly very talented forward.
Cedric Itten – 4.9 (6)
A very rare start up top for Cedric Itten, who I think it is not unfair to say is not suited to the current playing style that gives us the most success. Of course, you need to have options up top, and over the season he has shown that he is a good option for certain games (basically against Motherwell) but it’s hard to look at any real moment of quality or influence in this game. He should have seen this as a real chance to show he is someone to look more toward next season, I don’t think anyone can say that he has shown enough for that yet.
Nathan Patterson – 5.3 (6)
The last time we will see Patterson for a bit, so rather than talk about this game, let’s think about how brilliant he has done from the point where we thought he had ended his Rangers career before it had even started, to being in a place where people are seriously discussing moving our captain to a different position to accommodate young Nathan in the side. That is a magnificent response to the criticism he received.
Joe Aribo – 5.3 (5)
Very little to say about him, but like Kamara, I feel that these kind of games, especially away from home are rarely the games where you get top notch Joe.
Scott Arfield – 5.1 (5)
I’ve just remembered the guy who said he did not want to see Arfield “salute his way to the title” and it has fair given me a smile I have to say!
Calvin Bassey – 5.3 (5)
Bassey is another who will now have to go without for a bit, he is a player who I think fans are happy to stick with but are aware that a lot of developing is needed from him. At this point, I believe he will get there, but the plan about how he gets there is going to be extremely important.
Jermain Defoe – 4.7 (5)
The younger players who will need to develop could do worse than working, from a fitness point of view, with Jermain Defoe, someone who is so focused on keeping himself at a performing level. And I think he would really enjoy helping the younger guys in this way, it’s why he is certainly an asset to the squad, even if he is not playing as many games.