Mixed emotions but Murty and the Rangers fans should remember the teachings of Big Marvin.
First of all, there is no such thing as acceptable defeat. When it is against Celtic it makes it even more unbearable. There is a stark difference this time around though – it was the hope that killed us!
Genuinely, for the first game since 2011/12 collectively we believed we had a chance to win this game. We didn’t expect to win, but we thought we would do a hell of a lot better. And you know what, we did, just not quite enough.
When Graeme Murty took over we were eight points behind Celtic, sitting in fourth place having played just ten games. The squad and performances were shambolic. There was no obvious light at the end of the tunnel.
Fast forward nearly five months and we are nine points behind having scored more goals than Celtic, they have, after the game at the weekend secured just one point more than us over the same period (yes, with a game in hand). They have a settled team, we have been trying to find a formation and bed new players together with many players in their first year at the club, whilst suffering long-term injuries to other key figures.
This time last year when Clint Hill scored a dramatic, back post equaliser in the 87th minute we were just the 33 points behind, 33 points! If Alfredo Morelos had managed to score his dramatic, back post equaliser in the 87th minute the narrative would undoubtedly be a lot more positive.
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We have, in Josh Windass and Alfredo Morelos, a potent strike force. They have nearly 40 goals and numerous assists between them and it’s only the beginning of March, not forgetting they both had (very) lean patches. We have goals and assists in wide areas now too in Jamie Murphy and Daniel Candeias. Fully fit, we have a relative embarrassment of riches in the centre of midfield.
We all know what needs to be improved. We haven’t had a settled centre of defence all season. Our best individual, in my opinion, is Bruno Alves but he has been carrying niggles all season or has been out injured.
Fabio Cardoso looked promising to begin with but unfortunately it turns out he is just a better-looking Rob Kiernan. David Bates has improved immeasurably, it says a lot when his physicality and basic defensive positioning was sorely missed when he went off injured on Sunday. Russell Martin has come in and done ok, he doesn’t dominate in the air or carry the ball out of defence with any great style but, he’s been ok. I’d put Alves ahead of him purely on aerial ability and passing range. Ross McCrorie has the all-round game to be our best centre-half, pace, composed, great forward passer of the ball and without winning everything in the air certainly challenges for everything – he puts his head in where it hurts but would we be better served with him in midfield?
But what is the best partnership? Alves and McCrorie, Alves and Bates or Bates and McCrorie? The former for me with Bates getting game time to rest/protect Alves.
The problem is, are the back four protected enough from midfield? Murty must find either a way within his current shape or change the shape depending on the opposition to protect the defence. Offensively we aren’t far away and can’t have too many complaints. It’s trying to find the balance to keep the attacking edge without compromise that must be achieved.
Personally, if everyone is available, we go with two in the middle in the games we are predicted to dominate based on the style of play of the opposition. Going with the extra man in the middle against more “competitive” teams may give us more control in the key areas. But, we are more than capable of going with a diamond and two up front, given the resources we have now. Celtic had Sinclair, Musonda and Roberts all on the bench at the weekend, not one of them seeing any game time. Managers have to make big decisions.
Murty basically needs to win every game, he has found a way to win most games and rightly is reluctant to change this formula. This gives him little room for experimentation. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Was Sunday the time to change a winning team high on confidence? Was it the time to experiment with a different formation? Not for me. Yes, he could’ve brought on Cummings sooner but Morelos was playing well and Windass was involved in a lot of our good build-up play despite having a quieter game than usual.
The frustration was he didn’t really stick or twist. We were creating chances and he felt that the third goal would come. Would Holt, Halliday, Miler or Herrera have made a difference? Rodgers, on the other hand, had an easy decision to make. Down to ten men at 2-2 and away from home. If he tries to play for the draw and loses he gets pelters but if he goes for broke and loses nobody says anything because they were expected to lose. It’s all ifs, buts and maybes.
What I do know, and I like to be objective, is that Murty has played Celtic three times and lost only once and even then, it was individual errors rather than tactical ineptitude that cost him. We had more shots on target, more possession, more goals in 90 minutes than we have had since 2012, when was the last time we kept a clean sheet v Celtic other than in December? That’s right, 2012.
Should we judge him now because at 2-2 and against 10 men we lost the game, no, Smith, Advocaat and McLeish all had their respective stinkers v Celtic and with much better players against less dominant Celtic teams. We should, as was always the case, judge him at the end of the season, to be fair you could judge him from January when he brought better players to the club.
Best case scenario is he will have closed the gap and won the Scottish Cup. Worst case scenario is he leaves us in a much better shape for the new manager to come in and put the finishing touches on a promising, exciting Rangers team.
Whenever you think we aren’t progressing, look at the league table from last year. The gap is closing and way faster than many predicted. They aren’t 5-6 years and £30 million ahead as some “pundits” claimed earlier in the season. We are so close, as Big Marvin said, “keep believing!”.