27 August 2012

CRO on: Berwick Rangers 1-1 Rangers FC

by Andy McKellar | CRO contributor | @AMCKEL |

Ever since Rangers Football Club was plunged into administration in February of this year there has been a somewhat undesirable and largely unwanted focus on the off-field matters both from inside and outwith our support.

It was a summer of frustration as the authorities procrastinated and neglected their duties, almost turning the whole of Scottish football into a laughable pantomime with each passing week. Eventually we were finally provided with some much needed relief as our attention finally returned to tactics and team selections when McCoist lead his men to Glebe Park for our opening Scottish Football League fixture against Brechin City FC in the Ramsdens Cup.  Unfortunately the initial mood of enthusiasm and excitement seems to have left me as I write this today.

I should perhaps take this opportunity to acknowledge that our two matches at Ibrox thus far have been extremely impressive with goals galore and some thoroughly entertaining football along the way. I certainly harbour no fears for our home fixtures  and I completely expect us to finish the season with a rather impressive points and goals tally in that respect.

But on Sunday Berwick Rangers served us with a timely reminder that away from home, things won’t be quite so comfortable, not that one should have been required.

Rangers’ first ever Football League fixture took place at the humble Balmoor Stadium in Peterhead and I think it is fair to say that we were perhaps taken by surprise and suffered, rather unforgivably, from our own complacency. We were slow, we were sluggish and we most certainly lacked the energy and grit shown by our less illustrious opponents. As regulation time was drawing to a close the boys in blue were desperately and frantically clambering for a late equaliser to salvage some dignity after a woeful second-half display in particular, and so there is absolutely no excuse for the under par performance that we were forced to endure Sunday afternoon.

McCoist decided to open the match with a more traditional and conventional 4-4-2 formation, something which I had actually hoped for prior to the match. I was however far less satisfied when I discovered just how our starting XI players were to be distributed. In defence both Perry & Argyriou were forced to undertake rather unfamiliar positions meanwhile. The fact that Bocanegra has plenty of experience as a left back seems nothing more than a rumour inside the gates of Auchenhowie.

Lewis MacLeod, who had completely dictated the second-half against East Stirlingshire, was strangely shunted to left-midfield. Furthermore, McCulloch, who had impressed in attack in the opening fixtures, had been dropped into midfield where he has shown to be of limited effectiveness.

The first-half was worryingly similar to what we witnessed at Peterhead and it was notable that our formation was tweaked several times as we failed to make any considerable impression on the Berwick Rangers’ goal. We lacked any cohesion and often resorted to long, hopeful punts up the park, something Fran Sandaza clearly wasn’t impressed by judging by his lack of aerial challenges.

It was painful viewing indeed for the Bears who were fortunate enough to be inside the stadium and for those watching on nervously at home. Rather undeservedly however we did manage to take the lead when Andy Little thundered home a Lee McCulloch knock-down on a set piece straight off the training ground, much to the relief of Super Ally and his backroom staff. Regardless of our narrow advantage, it was clear that what we had just witnessed was completely unacceptable and McCoist was not slow to highlight this in his brief half-time interview as his players made their way down the tunnel.

I suppose I was heartened by the fact that our manager was only too well aware of how substandard his players had been and I envisaged a rather tense dressing room where more than a few arses were deservedly kicked. Sadly however any such rollicking, if indeed it took place, seemed to have a most unnoticeable effect as the second forty-five minutes proceeded in a familiar pattern to the first.

The match became bogged down in midfield and chances were at a premium as both teams battled for possession and attempted to break down the opposition. Alexander’s distribution continued to disappoint, and no effort was made to provide him with a short outlet.

The first to break the stalemate were Berwick as Fraser McLaren was put through on goal. The newly introduced substitute however still had a lot to do but clinically fired low into the bottom right corner of Alexander’s net to level the match. I’d be lying if I said it was against the run of play.
Rangers then managed to up their game slightly as they faced another embarrassing result on their travels.

Both Lee McCulloch and Andy Little spurned chances as the team pushed hastily for a winner and perhaps on another day we may have found ourselves ahead again. It wasn’t to be however and in fact it was Neil Alexander who was forced into a superb save which kept his side in the match.

It wasn’t to last for long however as a late corner was bulleted into the back of the Rangers’ net only to be strangely and unjustifiably denied by the referee’s whistle. While I don’t hide the fact that I may be guilty of viewing things through blue-tinted spectacles, I would be clutching at straws if I was to say that Mike Tumilty made the correct call. Rangers were let off the hook.

The performance would have been disappointing enough on its own merit, but following on from the poor effort we witnessed in our opening league fixture at Peterhead, the lack of effort and desire was bordering on disgraceful. Even in the Third Division it was made abundantly clear that nothing can be taken for granted. At the very least we must match the endeavour and determination of our opponents if we are to successfully navigate this season, especially away from Ibrox, and thus far I can honestly say that we have failed to do so. Our players are more than good enough to be taking a number of goals off of any team in the Scottish Football League but they must show a willingness and hunger to do so. A lack of motivation when playing for Rangers is completely unacceptable and I’d hate to think what Mr Struth would make of the performances at Balmoor and Shielfield Park in recent weeks.

But it is still early days and there is more than enough time for the management and players to make amends for their early failings away from home. McCoist is a club legend and has been immensely inspirational throughout these troubled times however I think there are several questions which need to be asked with regards to his tactics and team selections, both of which have raised the eyebrows of a growing number of supporters lately.

For now I will continue to give Super Ally the benefit of the doubt and reserve my judgement until a later date. His actions since February have merited at least that I reckon. He must begin to turn things around however and get his players motivated and up for the challenges ahead. The failure to do so would be quite unthinkable.

Please accept my apologies for a rather depressing read in this article but at the time of writing I’m simply struggling to find the silver lining that they say accompanies every cloud. Hopefully we will all be in a slightly better mood this time next week and for the foreseeable future as the team returns to winning ways. We may even be treated to a few new signings by that time. The current squad have spoke of their pride in representing our great club. Now is the time to prove it. Now is the time to Step Up & Play.