United We Stand? – Reflections On Raith

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By Lee Clark

Michael Beale has targeted another Scottish Cup win as the perfect way to lift the Rangers support ahead of his first full season in charge. Whilst he has had an impressive start to his time at Ibrox there is an air of uncertainty around the club at the moment, something the Rangers gaffer seems only too aware of as he spoke after his team cruised past Raith Rovers in today’s quarter final. With all the talk pre-game of what the future holds for the enigma that is Alfredo Morelos and more arguments amongst supporters, the Club and other supporters, Beale was keen to keep the conversation focused towards matters on the pitch and something every Rangers fan wants, winning  trophies!

We’ve got to beat two teams to win the trophy and that’s our aim, to retain it.  There’s ten league games to go and hopefully another two in the Scottish Cup.  Of course it’s the last game of the and winning it would be a fantastic way to give our fans some optimism going into next season.  

It was far from a classic this afternoon with ex-Ranger, Ian Murray setting up his team to ‘frustrate’ rather than ‘create’ and Rangers huffed and puffed through the 90 minutes but, were still able to chalk up a third victory in eight days, with relative ease.  It was a quiet game and played with the same sort of intensity you’d expect in a pre-season friendly, rather than a quarter final but, after a tough week, in the aftermath of a Cup Final defeat the players and manager deserve credit for a very good response, which included a thumping win at Easter Road on Wednesday and progression to a semi final where everyone (including those on booking) have come through unscathed.

We’ve played three games this week and faced three very different types of challenges.  Raith tried to make the game difficult by staying in.  We had 18 corners and 24 attempts and once you get that first goal you hope that the game opens up but, that didn’t happen, they stayed disciplined and that made for a slow game. With it being our third game in a week I’d liked to have seen us be a little sharper in the box.  I thought Borna put in some fantastic crosses and we need people to go in there and challenge but, after the highs of Wednesday we had to endure that today and it’s just about three goals, clean sheet and we are happy to be through. 

One common concern from us as fans, is that we have seen this movie before haven’t we?  Teams realise they can’t open up, shut up shop and we then struggle.  The only difference right now is that the ending seems to be a little different to what we are used to.  We keep winning games!  That being said, that doesn’t mean Beale doesn’t have work to do.  Asked how he goes about solving the problem of the ‘low block’ Beale was honest as ever.

We need to pass and run a little bit more, we got into good areas but, when that happens we need people really running and the movement in the box to be good,  we need to take on more shots from distance too.  We tried to do those things today but, weren’t at our free flowing best.  

It’s clear that Michael Beale has a philosophy as to how he want his team to play and in truth we won’t have the true measure of that until the squad is given the makeover it badly needs.  He is picking up results with what he has though (with one very horrible exception) and the decisions that have been made so far, in terms of personnel in and out, seem to have been the correct ones, albeit it’s early days.  James Sands left the club in the past fortnight with the thanks of most for the part he played in that glorious run to Seville but, also with a realisation that the team and squad simply needs better.  This past week has also seen three starts for Rangers new boys Todd Cantwell and Niko Raskin and they can be very pleased with their weeks work.  Whilst it was far from spectacular, Cantwell picked up another Ibrox Man of the Match award but, it’s their performances away from home that has pleased the manager more.  For many, the likes of Cantwell looked, on the face of it, a bit of a ‘luxury’ player and given he was left out of a difficult trip to Tynecastle and the ill-fated cup final defeat, the jury was very much out but a fine display at Easter Road on Wednesday is starting to turn a few heads within the Rangers support as both he and Raskin have been the proverbial shining lights the past couple of weeks.  We have all seen the way Raskin snaps into tackles and goes about his business in an assured, systematic way but, Cantwell has really taken me by surprise with his work-rate and hunger off the ball and it was great to see the two of them back each other up today after the inevitable ‘hammer throwing’ started.

I really wanted to give Todd Cantwell and Niko Raskin the full 90 minutes, that was important for them but, we knew we had Goldson and Borna a booking away from a suspension in the competition so we knew we had to bring them out and it was good to get Ridvan and John Souttar on.  Malik Tillman should be back next week and with Ryan Kent in good form we are starting to look very dangerous. With Cantwell and Raskin they are getting to know their teammates and the City and the league. In the home games we’ve obviously had a lot of possession but, the away match at Livingston, it was a tougher place to go and play and they’ve come out of that with thumbs up but, I thought they did really well midweek at Easter Road, they really showed up well and the team played with a lot of rotation.  

On Alfredo Morelos the manager was very brief and you can’t help but, think his time is coming to an end.  Michael Beale commented straight after the game that he needed ‘more’ from Alfredo and had this to say about his rumoured move to Sevilla.

Morelos has trained all week and I’ve not seen any change in him.  I’m not aware of any contact with Sevilla but, he has been free to speak to any club he chooses for quite a while now.  

It’s a sad way for it to end for a guy who was and is adored by many Rangers fans.  I said a couple of months back that I didn’t feel like another huge contract was a risk worth taking with him and I’m afraid to say, I’ve not seen much to change my mind.  If this is to be his final few games, he will go with my best wishes and I’ll always try to focus on the positive moments, of which there were many but, there is no denying Alfie is a shadow of the player he once was and if a new manager can’t motivate him to get back to the Alfredo we all know and love, both parties need to move on.  What I would say, is that it’s a complete farce that we will lose a guy of his pedigree for nothing, there is simply no defending it.

I’ll finish off with a word about the atmosphere today (or lack of should I say) which many feel was on the back of the Union Bears deciding to stay away from the game following issues with a banner at the turnstiles (I’m still unsure what it said btw).  In any case, criticism of our support from our enemies, is never far away but, it now seems to be a favourite pastime of many of our own, with threads appearing after every single game moaning about everything from: the wrong songs being sung, songs being sung too fast or slow, flags and banners being too big or saying the wrong thing, and of course today’s issue, no songs being sung at all.  Of course a lot of this ire is directed at the UB’s but, there are others who support the group and are using today as an excuse to rip into everyone else.  I’ll repeat what I always do when it comes to the atmosphere, our support are reactive to what they see on the pitch.  Yes it was quiet today but, did anyone really expect this to be a memorable afternoon in the stands, even with the UB in attendance?  I mean no disrespect to them but, it was Raith Rovers at 1pm on a Sunday.  A Raith Rovers’ side who by their managers own admission felt they couldn’t take any risks and effectively tried to kill the game from minute one.   It was a pedestrian, turgid affair that, I’m sorry to say was just boring as hell to watch. Is it any wonder that the crowd appeared exactly that.  Bored?  I understand people are frustrated with many aspects of the Club right now but, when it comes to putting the boot into our own, we really seem to do it better than most.  After a very good week, which included a fantastic performance (best of the season in fact) on and off the field, by players and supporters alike, I’m more than prepared to give our fans a pass on the lack of atmosphere today.  I think many of the things they do are fantastic and they generate a superb atmosphere as well as some amazing displays but, that’s not to say I agree with the Union Bears decision not to attend today’s game. I don’t and I certainly don’t think stuff like this will help them in their quest to win over people at the Club or other fans with issues such as safe standing or a move to a more prominent position within the Stadium (two things I wholeheartedly support for what it’s worth).  All I seen today, before and online after the game is even more division within a section of our support that can’t seem to agree on the colour of the sky to the point that they are all going home pissed off, after we’ve just won a quarter final.  That can’t be right can it?  We are a broad church and absolutely not above criticism but, it really would be great to see us stick together a bit more and cut out the almost constant sniping about every little thing.

The Manager had his say on the matter:

I don’t really know what’s gone on there but, with the crowd in the stadium today, there is a level of expectation.  Many were possibly expecting us  to be free flowing, like we were on Wednesday but, styles make games and the way the opposition set up today, with ten men behind the ball, made for a sticky, slow game.  I know the fans were happy with Wednesday and I’m quite sure they will be happy to be going back to Hampden.  

Well said Michael, I know I am!

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