By Lee Clark
Rangers relentlessly marched to the winter break, after strolling to victory against St Mirren at a very cold Ibrox Stadium this afternoon. The 500 lucky punters inside the ground, were in no mood to let the reduced capacity, or an enforced early winter break, dampen their mood as they cheered the team to a NINTH straight league victory, in a week which seen Rangers stretch their lead, over second placed Celtic to six points at the top of the Scottish Premiership. Manager Giovanni Van Bronckhorst praised his troops defensive work ethic, after seeing his team concede only one goal on league duty, since his arrival (seven matches) and says they will use the winter break as a positive and come back ready to kick on again in the New Year.
‘I am very happy with the results since the day of my arrival. It’s been difficult to come into a season which is already well under way but I think we all did well. I’m especially pleased with their work ethic defensively because I think the quality of the squad means we will always create chances. We will start again on the 5th and then have two weeks to prepare them for Aberdeen.’
Van Bronckhorst had been mildly critical a week ago, after a lacklustre opening 45 minutes against Dundee Utd, warning his players that they couldn’t afford to start too many games like that, and it appeared those comments had very much hit home, as Rangers came roaring out the traps with St Mirren almost hanging on after only ten minutes, before Scott Wright headed home the opening goal, following Conor Goldson’s flick from James Tavernier’s 13th minute corner. Wright had been rewarded with a starting slot, following a fine display from the subs bench against Dundee Utd and he appeared to grab his opportunity with both hands as he put in a Man of the Match display. Wright was a beacon of positivity after the game and spoke with a measure and maturity that illustrated, he was only too aware that this is just the start for him.
‘I just want to show the Boss what I can do and I feel like we are building momentum so the break possibly is coming at the wrong time but the Boss will have plenty of opportunity to give us his ideas to take into the next game. We have such a big squad you need to try and take these opportunities but, I think the completion is healthy and hopefully you do enough that he will pick you for the next game.’
Wright has done his chances no harm at all both in his performances and attitude and, whilst the end product still requires some work, his blistering pace and confidence to shoot for goal, is an encouraging sign. Several times the energetic winger found space in a packed St Mirren defence, which only managed to venture over the halfway line for the first time on 18 minutes but, his last two displays have certainly given GVB something to think about.
‘I am always looking at the performances, not only in games but also training. We have so many options in attack and midfield that we can adjust tactically depending on the opponent. I thought Scott would bring a lot of danger down the right side and he did well. I wanted us to play very close to the lines and that’s why I started with Scott. He brought exactly what I wanted him to bring. The message is clear, if you are training well you will have a good chance to play.’
Wright seemed to be at the heart of much of Rangers good play in the opening exchanges, linking fantastically well with the ever impressive, Joe Aribo and a sharp looking Alfredo Morelos. One move in particular on 31 minutes saw Wright absolutely skin two defenders before firing across goal towards Morelos, with Aribo in a much better position looking for a cut back. As already touched on, it’s a small frustration but, when you have a player with his sort of energy, desire and the ability to go past players as he does, Rangers look like they could have yet another asset on their hands.
Of course, the game was effectively over as a contest by then, Alfredo Morelos slamming home from close range, following up on his own thumping header from a superb Barasic cross on 26 minutes which St Mirren ‘keeper Alnwick could only parry. Rangers were in cruise control and, whilst the points never looked in any doubt, it was the manner of the victory, coupled with yet another clean sheet that pleased the Manager so much.
‘I’m very pleased because you know it’s going to be difficult against a team that is so compact. After the first goal they stayed very defensive so I was very happy with 2-0 at half-time and although we didn’t score more, the intentions of the team, second half was very good and that is the most important thing as well as another clean sheet.’
A word must go to the 500 lucky fans inside Ibrox. The swathes of blue seats meant it all felt a little ridiculous at kick-off and certainly overkill but, those who were there did their best to create an atmosphere and were more than a little appreciative that they were able to applaud the team off the pitch, after they cruised to victory, in a very professional second half performance. For yours truly, it was a privilege to be present and certainly something a little different. Not since the early 90’s, have I attended a Rangers match with so few punters present. On that occasion it was a reserve game, played at Recreation Park, Alloa and the 300 strong crowd were treated to first team stars such as Mark Hateley, John Brown and Alexei Michailichenko making an appearance in an emphatic win.
For the stars of today, it possibly wasn’t the rampant victory that many expected but, what really stood out was the organisation, desire and togetherness of a team that looked so fragile little over a month ago, led by the commanding voices of Conor Goldson and Allan McGregor. Rangers have been ‘Ebeneezer Scrooge like’, in their defensive duties since Giovanni Van Bronckhorst took over, a stark contrast to earlier in the season, which seemed to almost invite teams to a goal start, before kicking into gear. Whilst every fan likes to see the free-flowing, attacking football, we are becoming accustomed to at Rangers, most have very much bought into Gio’s foremost objective and recognise that ‘maintaining the zero’ is the mark of Champions. After a tough month, Rangers now find themselves further ahead in the title race and the opportunity to return an already strong squad, to as close to full strength as it’s been since the season began.
Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all within the Rangers family.