Rangers got their first away win of the league campaign against Hamilton on Sunday at New Douglas Park. The 4-1 scoreline flattered the visitors in terms of performance, but they showed a strong mentality to turn the game back in their favour after a late Hamilton equaliser. Neither side were at their best on the day and the game had large spells with no real quality. The win for Rangers means there are now only 5 points between the top 6 sides in the SPFL Premiership. Here is our report and analysis of how the game unfolded.
Rangers started with three changes from the match against Hearts. Scott Arfield missed out due to injury and was replaced by Jordan Rossiter. Andy Halliday and Niko Katic replaced Jon Flanagan and Joe Worrall. Hamilton made four changes, and also changed the shape of their team as they returned to using a back three.
The match started at a very slow pace. Hamilton were happy to let Rangers have a lot of the ball in defence. That meant that Goldson and Katic got a lot of touches but both were struggling to find passes. The first chance of any note fell to Candeias after a nice touch by Morelos, and his shot from distance was dragged wide.
Hamilton then created the next two chances of the match in quick succession. With 16 minutes on the clock, McGowan had a shot from the edge of the area which dipped just over the bar. Two minutes later, a deep cross by Penny was met by MacKinnon at the back post, but he could only volley wide.
It was clear Rangers weren’t playing with any real attacking fluency. On 21 minutes, a somewhat hopeful cross by Candeias was met by Kent but the angle was far too difficult to get a shot on target. Again, Hamilton created a couple of chances after that, with McGowan heading over and Imrie hitting a free-kick straight at McGregor.
The first real decent passing move from Rangers saw Ejaria get free just outside the box. The midfielder tried to curl a shot into the far corner and drew a decent save from Woods. Ten minutes after that, Rangers opened the scoring. Coulibaly won the ball just inside the Rangers half and played it quickly to Morelos. The striker was able to turn and play a ball through for Kent. The winger was clear and punished poor judgement by Woods with a lofted left-foot finish. With 41 minutes on the clock, Rangers had finally found a way to open up the Hamilton defence.
Hamilton looked to get back level before half-time. A high cross from the byline spent a lot of time in the air, and McGregor punched it clear on the stretch. The ball fell to MacKinnon but the midfielder couldn’t control his volley and it went well over.
In a number of matches this season, Rangers have been much better in the second half. The expectation was that Gerrard’s team would have to do so again to see this game out. However, the half started in much the same fashion as the first as neither side really looked good on the ball.
Rangers had struggled a little defensively. Both Goldson and Katic had misplaced passes and let the ball bounce when they shouldn’t have. Goldson showed his defensive class when he stayed on his feet to block a shot by Mickel Miller after some nice play from Hamilton in midfield. On the 58th minute, Miller had a good chance after exposing a poor effort at a challenge by Katic but poked the ball wide under pressure.
There was no doubt Rangers were winning possession, but they had little by way of chances. Ovie Ejaria tried to change that on 62 minutes as he ran into the box and beat his man with quick feet. The shot was aimed at the far post, and Woods was able to save well to push it wide. It took a further 15 minutes for either side to get a chance of note, and again it was Hamilton. A shot by Bingham was parried clear by McGregor and Keatings was unable to hit the rebound on target.
With 80 minutes on the clock, Tavernier saw a shot go just wide after winning a poor pass high up the pitch. Only a minute later, Hamilton got an equaliser. Steven Boyd cut in from the right-hand side and hit a brilliant shot from 20 yards into the top corner. The challenges on him weren’t strong enough by the Rangers players, but it was a great hit.
It seemed Rangers were set to drop more points away from home, but the last 10 minutes of the match contained more incident than the first 80. Rangers were awarded a penalty on 84 minutes as a cross from Candeias was blocked by Penny. The defender dropped low to hit the ball with his shoulder, but he never caught it correctly and it hit his arm on the way through. Replays showed that the penalty was the correct call. Tavernier stepped up and scored, with Woods having no chance despite guessing the direction.
A few minutes later, Rangers had a second penalty. Kent and Morelos linked up but there seemed to be little danger to Hamilton. Penny was on the wrong side of the striker and his attempts to get across saw him trip Morelos in the box. Again, Tavernier scored, this time placing the ball centrally as Woods went to his left.
In the last minute of injury time, Coulibaly won the ball and played it to Morelos. A great run from Candeias was picked out, and Woods hesitated to close the ball down. He just beat the winger to the ball, but Morelos won the ball, composed himself under pressure, and finished well with his left foot.
The scoreline suggests a rather comfortable win for Rangers. In truth, the performance was poor overall and the team didn’t look like they were able to come close to their best. Hamilton approached the game in a similar way to Livingston, allowing Goldson and Katic a lot of time on the ball as it slowed down the tempo of the match. There were a number of fouls which also broke up any rhythm. Kent and Candeias were receiving the ball from a standing position or facing their own goal too often. It was no surprise that the goals from open play were the only times Rangers could get a quick counter-attack opportunity. Both penalties were the correct decision upon analysis also. This Rangers squad needed a win when not playing well, but they certainly can’t allow their level of performance to be this poor too often.
McGregor, Goldson, Katic (Worrall 78’), Halliday; Rossiter (Grezda 81’), Coulibaly, Ejaria; Candeias, Kent (McCrorie 87’), Morelos.
Subs not used: Foderingham, Flanagan, Middleton, Sadiq
Woods, McGowan, McMann, Gordon (Boyd 75’), Tshiembe, Imrie, Miller (Keatings 68’), Penny, Mackinnon, Martin, Brustard (Bingham 62’)
Subs not used: Fulton, Want, Smith, Sowah.