Despite scoring 15 goals the previous season, there wasn’t a Rangers fan who was wholly convinced with the defensive attributes of James Tavernier. Mark Warburton appeared to agree with this sentiment when he acquired Lee Hodson from MK Dons for an undisclosed fee in the summer of 2016. Hodson was fresh from a trip to the European Championships with Northern Ireland although he didn’t see any playing time. Hodson has, however, since received high praise indeed from manager Michael O’Neill after his performance as a right wing back in a World Cup qualifier against reigning World Champions Germany in October 2016.

Hodson is a versatile defender, capable of playing at right or left back and it is understood that this was the main reason for his purchase, providing quality defensive cover for both Wallace and Tavernier. With around 150 games in the English Championship and League 1, Hodson has a wealth of experience at a decent level for a 25-year-old. He is certainly capable of playing in Scotland’s top flight anyway.

Hodson’s main attributes are his defensive capabilities. An accomplished man marker, he is rarely beaten for pace due to his positional sense and because he is no slouch himself. The fact that he was trusted at international level in a World Cup Qualifier versus the World Champions is as solid an indicator of this. Compare this to Tavernier, who due to indecisiveness, poor positional sense and over committing is repeatedly caught out exposing the centre halves.

Hodson started 16 games for Rangers (including 18 mins before injury forced him off v Aberdeen)in the 2016/17 season and played pretty much all the teams in the top flight. His most notable appearances were v Celtic, Aberdeen and Hearts when Tavernier was deployed further forward with Hodson at right-back. Again, if this isn’t an indicator of who various management teams feel is the best defensive right-back then what is as he appears to be the go-to man to shore up the defence?

 

Rangers had a 50% win ratio in the league with Tavernier in the team, scoring 56 goals (1.5 per game) whilst conceding an equally unacceptable 44 goals (1.1 per game). In the 15 games that Hodson played 45 minutes or more Rangers had a 67% win ratio scoring 27 (1.8 per game) and conceding just 9 goals (0.6 per game). To give you an idea of what this could mean over the course of a season, Rangers could have scored 68 and more importantly conceded just 22 goals which would’ve given them the best defensive record in the league. I know this is all ifs, buts, and maybes but as I said previously, he did play Celtic twice conceding just 2 goals and keeping Scott Sinclair et al quiet in the process. He had 5 clean sheets in 15 games, but almost as important is that he only conceded more than one goal on a single occasion v Dundee when Graeme Murty was in charge. Out of the 5 games he played in and didn’t win there was the two Celtic games at Celtic Park and Hampden, a 1-1 draw with 4th placed St Johnstone at home where a mistake by Hodson in the 5th minute led to an early opener, a 1-1 draw with Motherwell at home and the Dundee game as mentioned when the club was in disarray.

To compare Tavernier and Hodson in an attacking sense is more subjective. Tavernier is considered better as an attacking full back but is this because he neglects his defensive duties to attack rather than choosing what moments to go forwards? He did show his attacking prowess the previous season with 15 goals but with a return of just 1 goal in 2016/17, we must consider that this was either a fluke or due to the inferior opposition, or a mixture of both. Tavernier does get forward more often and also takes free-kicks which makes him more likely to assist. He proved this with five last season which isn’t bad from a full back position considering Celtic’s Moussa Dembele and Kiernan Tierney (valued at £40m and £20m respectively) supplying better finishers also got five. Hodson managed one goal v Aberdeen and one assist in his 15 games, which translated over a whole season equates to around 3 goals/assists which would be just below the statistics of Wallace and Tavernier.

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With the added creativity and solidity in midfield and extra fire power up front, Rangers now need to look at the goals against column and decide whether the extra 2-3 assists that Tavernier will produce is worth the defensive lapses that lead to goals at the other end either through personal liability or because he has isolated his centre halves through one of many negligent forays into the opposition half.

Hodson deserves his chance, he has proven this with several competent displays against the best opposition in Scotland playing with limited centre halves and a sometimes erratic goalkeeper. Tavernier can still do a job either in front of Hodson for a more defensive set up or coming on as a sub to provide a more attacking impetus where required but Hodson must be given a run in the new look Rangers back four to give the team a solid base to progress from. Goals win you games, defences win you championships.

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