Over the years, one thing I’ve learned is that Rangers fans as a whole seem to absolutely love strong defensive displays. Any fan enjoys seeing a team score goals and play well, but some fans seem to hate watching their side be hard to beat. For whatever reason, Rangers fans, in general, appreciate that side of the game more than most. On Thursday night against Maribor, the support could be forgiven for believing they were watching a team from a decade ago as Rangers fought their way to a 0-0 draw to win the tie. Let’s have a look at the talking points from the night.
TACTICS AND COACHING
Rangers approached this match in a different manner to any so far this season. Murphy and Candeias were asked to man-mark deep-lying midfielders. Arfield and Ejaria then had to work between midfield and the wide areas defensively. It was a system designed to be hard to beat.
It could have gone very wrong. On paper, the obvious choice was to play Murphy and Candeias wide. When you consider that the team had very little time on the training ground between Sunday and Thursday, it was a risk. However, everyone looked well-drilled and fully invested in the game plan. That’s a high level of coaching that is often overlooked. Rangers are not a team full of experienced international players at this stage. Through ability and determination, they are putting any shortcomings in experience to one side and getting the job done.
HE DIVES TO THE LEFT, HE DIVES TO THE RIGHT…
Allan McGregor may already be the most significant signing Rangers have made this season. I wasn’t as critical of Wes Foderingham as many fans seemed to be. It was clear McGregor would be an upgrade, but over the years I think I’ve forgotten just how good he actually is. His ability to make saves when he has no right to at crucial times was evident last night. The save from Tavares in the second half will be included in future arguments about the best saves we’ve seen from Rangers goalkeepers.
But there’s a little more to it than just his ability. He’s trusted far more by the support. Ibrox can be difficult to play in when the fans are nervous. For whatever reason, many didn’t have a great amount of trust in Wes Foderingham. That’s not the case with McGregor, and a more composed support helps the players when they have to show that quality as well.
IT’S ALL ABOUT WINNING
Somewhere, Walter Smith was watching Rangers on the night with a wry smile on his face. Much like his second spell in charge, Rangers set up with no other thought than to get the job done. It wasn’t pretty for a neutral, and will no doubt see some accuse the team of being negative or the likes. But as Gerrard told us on the day he was announced, he’s here to win. It won’t matter to him how the job is done, just that the results are what we’re looking for.
We haven’t been given enough of a look at the attacking threat this team can have. Rotation of players, red cards in domestic games, and being set up to be hard to beat away in Europe has meant the attacking players haven’t always had a real run. Over the course of the season, we’ll see if we have enough in those areas to be effective. What’s clear is that even if we don’t, Gerrard and his coaching team will find ways to make up for it. That sort of pragmatism is generally the difference when you’re not given hundreds of millions to spend on players.
What did you take away from the match? Tweet us @abouttherangers with your thoughts.