10 March 2013

Out of focus

by Peter Ewart | Contributor

Nando's, Nando's, Nando's, Nando's
It’s said that if you haven’t got anything good to say then say nothing. When it comes to our manager and the way our team has performed (or not) I have pretty well kept to that adage this season. Excuses could be made - exceptional circumstances, culture shock all that. However we are way beyond that stage. The fact is that the football being played is remarkably poor and results are now suffering.

The 2-1 loss to Annan marks one of, if not the worst result in Rangers history. That is some claim, but it is hard to think of a parallel. The full time team supposed to be pushing on for the league title just didn’t. Annan outplayed us, outthought us, wanted it more, and it could have been far more comfortable for the visitors.

The result itself has been the catalyst for a backlash but it is far from the first dismal performance of the year. Supposedly professional players haven’t been interested, discipline and leadership have been lacking, and the buck has to stop with the manager.

We have been tactically out thought on a regular basis in SFL3. On top of that our players do not look fitter than our part-time opponents. We have played one up front and the long ball game far too often.
Ally has played players out of position on a regular basis. Andy Little, who has continued to bang in goals wherever he has been played, has been played wide right for far too many games. Against Annan, Little was started on the left wing, into the center when Shiels went down, then moved to the right to accommodate a slack Sandaza. A noticeably unfit Jig was played through the middle and despite needing goals, Little, our leading scorer and on a great run of form, was pushed to the wings. An absolute waste.  

And he was not the only player: Kal Naismith, predominantly left footed, continues to start games on the right hand side where he looks uncomfortable and frankly a position he is unable to play. It is crazy.  
Black appears to be unable to be dropped despite a string of under-par performances, and Shiels and Sandaza made it back on the park ahead of players who merited inclusion ahead of them. There is a pandering towards ‘senior’ players. Do we have to play them because we pay them so much rather than how they are playing? If Ally feels he does, and that is what it looks like, then we have a problem.

There is a general lack of cohesion and discipline in the side. Take the East Stirlingshire game last week. Players were arguing with each other. Complacency was rife. There was arguing over who would take free kicks. There were pointless floated corners drifted into no man’s land between the penalty spot and 18 yard line. Do we practice taking and defending set pieces? We should be much better at both, certainly in comparison to our, again, part-time opposition.

I don’t understand what is happening on the training ground, all those decisions should already have been made by the manager and stuck to without question by the players – why is our preparation and execution apparently so slack?

As we were losing to Annan, East Stirlingshire were hammered 9-1 by Stirling Albion. A freak result? Almost certainly, but given the wage bill we have (second only to Celtic in Scotland) in what is a part-time amateur league it is what we should have been threatening to do in a lot of games this season – win by double figures. We haven’t even been close. 5-1 at home and 6-2 away are our biggest league wins. Clean sheets like hens teeth too.

It is all too easy to slate the poor performances but what can we do about it? Some of the answers are sitting on the substitutes bench and in the Swifts line-ups. We should also be looking at what has not worked. Signing SPL players for the lower leagues has not proved a success. Black, Sandaza, Shiels, Templeton have all underperformed to a greater or lesser degree. We have not had leadership from them, nor have we had value for money, perhaps with the exception of the inconsistent Templeton. For senior players there are unfortunately no leaders amongst them. McCulloch flatters to deceive in that department and whilst Wallace can lead by example at times, though he is not a ‘talker’ or natural motivator. We are crying out for leadership down the spine of the team.

We have had glimpses of some of the younger players, and Fraser Aird and Robbie Crawford have performed when played. Lewis Macleod was a revelation prior to picking up his unfortunate injury. And you suspect that there are more waiting in the wings – Mitchell, Murdoch and others. We’ll maybe even get to see Gasparotto. Yet the stock reaction from Ally to the horrendous Annan performance is to say that it highlights the need to strengthen the team and squad. It simply doesn’t. It highlights the inability to bring the best out of the current squad. We have no need to buy more mediocre players from around the world. Cribari and Argyriou should be case in point for that.

And with the financial state the club is in we should not be signing high wage ‘big’ name options for the lower leagues. It’s nonsensical. We have talent already at the club that should be nurtured ahead of bringing in expensive and mediocre foreign and journeyman players. Some experience and leadership is needed but should be very carefully selected. The club can ill-afford to waste money on fringe signings such as Kevin Kyle and the like.

It’s not what the fans want either. Season ticket renewals are not far away and the club would do well to take heed. Now is the time to give youth time to develop, play a passing game and make the product on the park attractive all round. We are miles away from that currently. Season ticket prices will be going up, but Green should now realise that it isn’t ‘box office’ individual players that are needed to justify the hike.

We want a team that plays for each other, gives its all and plays for the jersey. And that should be a damned sight cheaper than the current route we have embarked on. Just because the registration embargo will come to an end doesn’t mean the club should rush out and buy all round them. Let’s take stock of what we need for whatever league set-up we end up in next year and that should mean limited and focused transfer activity.

Of course we will win SFL3. If we don’t I am leaving the country. But as it stands if Queen’s Park, an amateur side, win on Tuesday night, they will only be 14 points behind us. We’ll be less than five wins better than them in mid-March. Is that good enough? We haven’t been disciplined or professional enough. The league should have been out of sight a while ago but we haven’t been up to it. The manager and coaching staff have been at fault. Change in tactics, attitude and application is needed, and the sooner the better. Certainly Ally will always be a Rangers legend, but it’s hard to see him making it into the top bracket of Rangers managers if a massive overhaul is not undertaken, and soon.