By Lee Clark
There is much to ponder right now for Rangers fans. On the back of a very disappointing fortnight which saw three poor (and I’m being kind here) domestic performances followed by another Champions League capitulation, Giovanni Van Bronckhorst and his players roared back to life, as they sent Aberdeen back up the road, with their tails firmly between their legs. This was a performance that no one saw coming, certainly not the Rangers support, who it’s fair to say were a little flat prior to today’s game. Indeed, Aberdeen manager Jim Goodwin had spoken of Rangers vulnerability and his own team’s confidence pre-game and certainly his team selection and formation seemed to back up those claims. Of course, there were those of a light blue persuasion who scoffed at this but the truth is, he had a point and I think there were more than a few Bears in attendance who were a little nervous before kick-off (I know I was), indeed the manager seemed to be the only one who was looking forward to it. GVB had spoken pre-game of the need to start well and lift the Ibrox crowd with energy and desire, in fact it’s the most positive I’ve seen him in a couple of weeks. Within minutes, it was clear that his positivity wasn’t without reason and the Bluenoses in attendances really had nothing to worry about. This was quite easily Rangers’ best performance of the season and despite going a goal behind to Aberdeen, to the disbelief of everyone watching I may add, the players soon took control and went into half time, deservedly ahead, and from there, they never looked back. The away side had one chance at the start of the second half but, it was simply one way traffic from then on. Rangers absolutely battered them and for the first time, in quite a number of weeks, it was clear the Rangers support were enjoying watching their team again, albeit the only disappointment is that Aberdeen got away quite so lightly. Let’s be clear, if Rangers had won this game to the tune of 8 or 9 goals, not a single person could’ve complained, that’s how dominant the home side were. Gio agreed:
It was very pleasing, it’s a good win and performance. We had 35 attempts on goal today and were very aggressive going forward. Even when we went behind, we kept our belief and intensity and created so many chances to score. Of course, to win is important but, I think the way we did it is also really pleasing, we dominated the whole game.
There has been a lot of negativity surrounding the Rangers support this past fortnight. Words such as desire, hunger, character, leadership and fitness had been mentioned countless times and not in a good way. Has the manager been aware of that noise? Has he finally noticed the restlessness of the crowd at recent games? Whatever the reason, this was much more like a proper Rangers performance and the, initially flat crowd responded in kind, to ‘Silence the Lambs’ in the south west corner. Both the manager and John Lundstram wanted to address that point after the game:
Of course, there are moments where they will let you know when the display isn’t right said Gio but, it’s up to us (as players/manager) to create those moment in a positive way.
John Lundstram agreed:
I think today we played a lot more free and with a lot less pressure than we maybe have in other weeks. There is no getting away from it, this (Ibrox) can be a tough place to play when the fans get a little unsettled but, it’s about us standing up and showing character to lift the crowd because this is one of the hardest places for any team to come and play when these fans are behind us.
For many fans, these sorts of soundbites can become tiresome when the team is on a poor run (as we have been) but, after blowing the opposition away, as they did today, I think it was an important point to make. Listening to both John and Gio you got the sense that they wanted to show the fans that they ‘do’ get the expectations of this club and that we ‘are’ all in it together. Of course, there is a long way to go, the previous weeks failings aren’t suddenly airbrushed from history on the back of one good result and performance but, this one really did feel like a step in the right direction.
I myself, have been highly critical of the players and manager as recently as three days ago so, it’s only fair they receive the plaudits too. It was clear to me, that Rangers meant business today. From the way the manager set the team up, with Lundstram in that more attacking role we seen second half v Napoli, to how direct our forward players were. Even the way he behaved on the touchline seemed different today. I know we all like to play the amateur psychologist but, have you ever seen Gio so animated at the side of the park? The energy was pouring out of him as he urged, no, demanded his players drive forward. Even at 4-1 you could sense that wasn’t enough for Gio and the players as they kept driving at Aberdeen and as said, the away side are lucky to get away with ‘only’ a 4-1 drubbing, in the end. In truth it’s the first time I’ve truly enjoyed watching us in a good few weeks and I know many around me felt the same.
Rangers now go onto their final Champions League group game, against Ajax with a bit of a spring in their step. My opinion on this one hasn’t changed, it’s still a ‘dead rubber’ despite the mathematics saying otherwise but, I now firmly believe it to be a bigger game than it was a few days ago. Giovanni van Bronckhorst has been around this club long enough to know, that one positive result and performance, won’t be enough to suddenly get everyone back on side but, go out and take the points against Ajax and it really gives his team a platform to go into the extended winter break and refresh a squad that is getting more decimated by the game. Ridvan Yilmaz (hamstring) and Ben Davies (groin) both limped out of today’s proceedings and to my mind that is no fewer than ten players, who would have a legitimate chance of playing the Rangers starting XI who are now out through injury. That isn’t designed to be an excuse and certainly the manager wasn’t looking to make any but, it’s fair to say that sort of injury list is going to hurt any manager and for me, this winter break is coming just at the right time, in that we might get some of these guys back and ready to go.
I know things haven’t been great but, that was so much better today and when they go out and play like they did today, it’s a stark reminder that we do have a group of players that are capable of producing big moments. And when Ibrox responds, as you did today, it really does makes it all worth it!