By Lee Clark
Ianis Hagi and his Rangers teammates had to get dirty, to see off a decimated but, extremely well drilled Dundee Utd side at Ibrox this afternoon as The Champions secured an EIGHTH straight league victory . Like the first encounter between the teams at Tannadice, the match was settled by a solitary goal for the home side, on the day, with little in the way of clear-cut chances at either end to speak of, until James Tavernier stepped up to win the game from the penalty spot in the second half. Credit must go to Tam Courts and his squad, which was littered with teenagers (after a midweek Covid outbreak) who stuck to their task diligently before eventually cracking under relentless Rangers’ pressure. Hagi, the subject of some playful teasing from the home support, when he was named Sponsors Man of the Match, was honest in his assessment of the game, paying tribute to a dogged opponent, whilst praising his own team for a grinding victory that sees Rangers stretch their lead to seven points at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
‘It was a tough game, I think defensively they had really strong shape and that they had done their homework on us. There are days and nights in a season where the movement isn’t on point but that’s when you need to be strong collectively and grind out the three points and that’s what we done today.’
It’s an old football cliché, that ‘these types of victories are what Champions make’ and it’s hard to disagree. A tough month for Rangers, looked finally like catching up with them, as they huffed and puffed their way to another vital win. With many predicting at least one slip up by now the relief from the Ibrox stands was palpable and, whilst the punters might not have been blown away by the performance, the manner in which Rangers ground out the victory sent them on their way very happy indeed. It’s something not lost on Hagi.
‘It gives us belief. I’ve learned the dirty part of football here, something I wasn’t used to. In my first season we sometimes didn’t play well and drop points but, it’s a key thing to be ruthless when we aren’t playing our best and taking the opportunities to kill the game but, also making sure we keep a clean sheet.’
Hagi and his Rangers teammates now have the unfamiliar feeling of being able to catch their breath before the next game (a full eight days away) and in truth it’s a break Rangers need after an energy sapping three-week period since Giovanni Van Bronckhorst arrival that has seen 8 games, 15 goals scored and only 2 conceded. The Manager had joked pre-game that it had felt like ‘three months’ such was the hectic schedule but, he has been around the block enough, to know how difficult it is to sustain the types of high intensity performances that Rangers fans are already becoming accustomed to in his short time at the Club.
‘We weren’t at our best and didn’t create too much and our performance needed to be better but, there are games in a season where you need to do what you can to win and we did that. I’ve been a coach now for a number of years and I know you cannot play at the highest level every game especially during difficult periods so that is why I’m very happy with the win.’
It’s the sort of statement that reinforces the point, that Rangers are in safe hands. There was no panic, there was no frenzy, just business as GVB very quickly rung the changes starting with Scott Wright at half time, followed closely by Joe Aribo and it was a much more direct Rangers side in the second half, who probably should’ve won the game by more, before a late scare as Utd struck the bar in the final minutes.
‘We lacked a bit of a bravery (on the ball) and committing players forward and that’s why we struggled a little bit in the first half. We had to change a few things at half time because our positioning wasn’t ideal and we wanted to introduce Scott Wright and Aribo as we knew that, along with Hagi more central would create more danger.’
The ability to change the game and make good use of substitutes, is an early positive feature of Van Bronckhorst’s time at Ibrox and it’s something the players are responding to. The past three weeks have seen a return of the ‘togetherness’ that saw Rangers romp to the title last term and Ianis Hagi gave a little insight to what it’s like playing under such a commanding figure.
‘I’m enjoying it a lot. Playing under a coach that played at the highest level and was the leader and Captain of his Country, it’s a privilege and I just want to take my game to the next level. I’m never taking it for granted, every second at the training ground and stadium I’m trying to learn. If you are at a Club like Rangers you need to adapt and perform at a high level because there are always guys waiting to take your spot. That’s also really healthy.’
Rangers now have a well-deserved break, before taking on St Mirren at Ibrox, on Boxing Day. Many fans have one eye on a mouth-watering trip to Pittodrie before a New Year Old Firm Derby at Parkhead but, today should be a timely reminder to everyone, that NOTHING can be taken for granted and that the basics still need to be done well, to win any football match, no matter who the opponent.