20 July 2014

Five things we learned from: Sacramento vs Rangers

Pic: SNS

by Alan Clark | Deputy Editor

Rangers' pre-season is in full swing now with four friendlies played, from northern Scotland to the west coast of the United States.

Buckie Thistle were on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline, before Brora Rangers held the famous to a 1-1 draw on Kris Boyd's second debut in a blue shirt. Ventura County Fusion surprised everybody by punishing a sorry Gers performance with a 3-1 win.

Last night, Ally McCoist put his side up against USL Pro side Sacramento Republic in California, Ian Black's late winner sealing a deserved, yet uninspiring, 2-1 victory.

Here's five things we learned from the match;

Kenny Miller is good at running

There was a lot of uproar and criticism surrounding Rangers' decision to sign Kenny Miller for a third time this summer. The striker, now at the tender age of 34, is clearly a short-term capture for McCoist to help the club get out the SPFL Championship and back where the Teddy Bears belong - the top-flight. 

However, many doubted that he would be able to do a job even in the second-tier. It's early days yet, but Miller's performance at Bonney Field was encouraging at the very least. The former Scotland internationalist set up Black's tap-in after a good pass-and-move with Lewis Macleod, followed by an intelligent low cross for the assist. 

He was Rangers' best player on the evening, showing he is still capable of pulling defenders all over the shop with his clever runs in the final third and willingness to collect the ball from deep. This type of movement was missing on the whole from the side last season, with Nicky Clark's fleeting appearances giving a similar sight but perhaps not as effective.

If Miller can use those skills to team up with Kris Boyd like he did in season 2009/10, Rangers will have no problems in Scotland's second division.

Lee McCulloch will likely play in midfield this season 

The captain came to the club as a left midfielder and moved to the holding role for SPL titles and European runs, then became a prolific centre forward in the Third Division. McCulloch then unbelievably slotted in as a centre-back for the entire undefeated League One campaign. Now as preparation for the Championship gets serious, McCulloch is being shoehorned in as a central midfielder again.

'Jig' played this role quite a lot in the top-flight and never quite made it his own, and now with the signings of defenders Marius Zaluikas and Darren McGregor, it looks like McCoist favours using the 36-year-old in the engine room. Also, given the additions of Miller and Boyd (added to Jon Daly, Clark and Callum Gallagher already being at the club), there is not a space for him to move up top ala the Third Division campaign, so the likeliest destination is midfield.

This is where he started against Sacramento and didn't impress in the time he had before Black replaced him. The starting 11 last night is as close to McCoist's selection for Hibernian on August 5th as it will be, in my opinion. The fascination with playing hot prospect Macleod out of position on the left, repeated last night, seems to suggest the manager is making room for the skipper - which may not be popular with the supporters - who see Macleod's development as paramount. And rightly so.   

Darren McGregor looks a good find from McCoist

When the 28-year-old swapped St Mirren Park for Ibrox this summer, not many supporters at Ibrox were that enthused. An extremely injury-prone defender, playing for a club that flirts with relegation from the top-flight most seasons - it hardly gets fans eager to buy season tickets.

But some who have watched McGregor's progression from Junior football to Premiership football have commented that this is a great move for both parties - with Rangers getting a centre-back who has a decent turn of pace and is difficult to get the better of.

It's early days yet, but McGregor's displays so far have been promising. He scored the equaliser with a bullet header last night, and looked composed throughout. He is keeping his feet on the ground despite settling into Rangers very well - and quickly. He didn't the start the game, but it will be interesting to see who McCoist's favours come the start of competitive action out of McGregor, Zaluikas and Bilel Mohsni.

Kris Boyd is human! 

The signing of Boydy for his second stint was met with widespread delight from the Light Blue legions. There's not many players that have that predatory instinct in the 18-yard box, the ability to finish pretty much anything thrown their way. Right foot, left foot, header - Boyd just scores goals. 

He started the match at Sacramento partnering old buddy Miller, but was hooked off at half-time after a pretty poor display from the Irvine-born hitman. He was presented with a one-on-one which he messed up pretty badly, and had an open goal to roll the ball into which he also messed up. It was very surprising to see.

There is no doubting in mind that when the league campaign begins in earnest, you'll see Boyd top the goalscoring charts with ease - and that his goals will secure Rangers' passage back to the top division. But his fluffs in front of goal in this game show that he won't always be on song - and that's okay. Because he'll score in the next game, time and time again!

We're still going strong

The Rangers supporters selling out Ibrox for Third Division games will live long in the memory, but the club's demotion to the lowest league may have done serious damage to an already ailing worldwide brand. On that note, it was fantastic to hear the Sacramento commentators credit the club's long 142-year history and all the achievements that come with it. 

As was the sight of close to 1,000 in red, white and blue watching their team in the sunny state of California. Just the 5,000 miles away from home.

Rangers are still alive and beating across the globe. 

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