By Lee Clarke
When Michael Beale took over as Rangers boss, his initial expectations were relatively modest. Already trailing Celtic by a sizeable margin, most Bluenoses felt the league title was an unsurmountable task, particularly as he inherited a squad in dire need of an overhaul. It’s fair to say many fans were unsure about the appointment, even if most do respect him as a coach and for those reasons, he would be afforded some leeway until he could put his own stamp on the team.
As has been said many times however with the Rangers job, does come great expectation and an initial unbeaten run in the league, that lasted fully 15 games, which included a home draw with Celtic (his only dropped points and a game we really should’ve won) had the Ibrox faithful more than a little hopeful that Beale could deliver some much needed silverwear, particularly as he also signed Todd Cantwell and Niko Raskin at that time, who immediately went into the first XI.
Despite that early promise, a capitulation in the League Cup Final, the end of the unbeaten run and another defeat in the Scottish Cup Semi-Final, all at the hands of Celtic, had alarm bells ringing. Unfortunately for Michael Beale it’s been an indifferent start to the season and any goodwill he had left amongst even the most positive of Rangers fans, disappeared as the team, once again crumbled against a poor Celtic side yesterday, following Wednesday’s humiliation at the hands of PSV Eindhoven. In the 35+ years I’ve been attending Ibrox I can never remember it being so toxic in the stands following a defeat. The players and manager left the field to a barrage of abuse and boo’s, with many thousands more taking to the various social media platforms to demand that his time is already up.
I’ve said from early on in Michael Beale’s tenure that, whilst I was happy with the results I didn’t think we were playing great and what he was saying post-match wasn’t necessarily what I was seeing on the pitch. Six months down the line and I don’t think that’s really changed. An unbelievable VAR call, to rule out a perfectly good goal aside, Rangers were shocking , there’s no other way of putting it and I’m just not convinced that the manager fully grasps how serious the problem is. After the game he had this to say:
I think there was an anxiousness in our play. We started the game well but then tended to sit deep as a back four. We wanted to push the defence further forward and I think we did that. In the second half I thought we pushed, we chased the game and although we could’ve created more, we had big moments to score. Sam (Lammers) and Danilo, along with Dessers in the first half had big chances. It’s fine margins and we need to use the ball better but, we created enough chances to score, certainly more than Celtic.
All of that is factually correct of course but, it doesn’t even begin to tell the story of a game where Rangers failed to get any sort of foothold or put Celtic under nearly enough pressure. For example, the comment about the defence being too deep, I personally thought our three midfielders sitting right on top of them, allowing the Celtic captain to stroll around the Ibrox midfield (again!) without a care in the world, was a much bigger problem. Worse still, one of our three midfielders happened to be our most creative and biggest attacking threat, in Todd Cantwell who was inexplicably deployed in a defensive wide right position. It’s quite obvious why the manager has done it but, it’s unbelievable to me that we would sacrifice our brightest and best talent, essentially taking him completely out of the game, for fear of what might happen in a one-on-one situation down the right-hand side of our defence. As for ‘creating enough chances, our tactics seemed to be nothing more than launching long, hopeful balls at two rookie centre-backs in the hope one of them would miss it. For all Rangers missed a couple of sitters, middle to front didn’t put their defence under anywhere near the sort of pressure they should have and I’m left shaking my head in disbelief that Liam bloody Scales has left Ibrox with a man of the match award. Even Celtic fans will be pissing themselves at that one!
On the subject of our right hand side, the captain has come under fierce criticism the past few weeks and he was in the firing line again yesterday. There is an argument that some of our fans have never taken to James Tavernier and they will put the boot in no matter what. That’s something I would most definitely agree with, some of the abuse that man has taken from Rangers fans has been deplorable but, that doesn’t mean he is above criticism and I’m sorry to say he has not started the season well, despite him adding a few more to his ridiculous goal tally. Tav is a fantastic athlete and has been a fantastic servant, posting insane attacking numbers for a right back year after year but, I felt last season he had lost that yard of sharpness and he is now being woefully found out to the point he is actively being targeted by opposition teams. It was a nightmare night for him on Wednesday and when we are now sacrificing our own attacking options to protect him, I think serious questions need to be asked as to how much longer we persist, not only with this system but, possibly with James’ place in the team altogether. Unsurprisingly, Michael Beale didn’t agree:
I’m not going to sit here and pilloried individual players, James is our Captain. He has been a fantastic and is a fantastic player for this club. He’s a right back, who plays against different wingers week in week out and there isn’t a right back in football who won’t be taken on once or twice. His contribution is fantastic and if he wasn’t there people would see it straight away. I don’t think there was anything in today’s game that was eye opening about James, I think that’s incredibly harsh and it’s people picking holes for whatever reason. James is an attacking fullback who offers us width and he definitely contributes enough to the team.
In case you missed it, Tav was also asked about his form and if he thought it was good enough. He had already stated that the performance in general was poor and that the fans had every right to be angry but, his response to this was a very blunt:
I wasn’t for one second expecting him to say ‘no I’ve been crap’ but, I felt it was a little dismissive and given the managers comments, I don’t expect anything to change in that regard. Like every manager Michael Beale has his blind spots and unfortunately for him it’s that sort of stubbornness which could end up costing him in the long run.
The scenes at the end weren’t good for anyone at the club and I’m not sure why anyone thought it was a good idea for the team to do a lap of the stadium after such a poor performance. I appreciate this is a ‘damned if they do’ situation and I guess they deserve a small amount of credit for facing up to it but, it didn’t half fan the flames. This was gold for every tabloid and Rangers hater but, in all honesty it’s hard to ignore. Four games into a season, barely into September and the manager is under serious scrutiny with most fans demanding answers, with many more looking to show him the door already. Michael Beale responded:
I understand the frustration of the fans with the last two results and it’s not just here at Rangers. It’s a derby, there’s a lot of emotion involved and the fans expect their team to get a result and we didn’t. In terms of pressure, that’s always there in this job and you are only a couple of results away before you feel that but, the most pressure is always put on by ourselves and we’ve fallen short of that today because I expected and us to get a result. I feel over the 90 minutes it’s harsh on us but, I appreciate with these games it’s only about the result.
Again, nothing wrong with any of that but, at this stage I’m afraid most will just write it off as soundbites and nothing statements. I’m watching this Rangers team and can’t quite believe that we’ve managed to regress from this time last season. I still don’t know what our game plan is or what we are trying to achieve when we have the ball. We look lost in possession with very little movement middle to front we get to the point that a long ‘hoof’ is the only option for the centre backs. Michael Beale finished off with these words:
I do believe we have a squad capable of winning the league but, I know those word aren’t worth anything if the team don’t win games. It’s the fourth game of the season and it’s not where we want to be but, it’s clear we need to go on a run of performances and wins right now.
I’ve said already, what he says and what I’m seeing don’t always compute and it’s difficult to see us going on any sort of run right now. Playing our best players in their best positions as well as giving those who have gone off the boil, a much needed rest might be a good place to start. As ever I’ll be behind him all the way and I sincerely hope he rams every single word of this rant, back down my throat!