Saturday 13th September 1997
Rangers 3 – 3 Aberdeen
Goal scorers – Negri (pen), Albertz, Laudrup
If ever a single result and performance reflected a team’s season it was this one. Rangers should have won this game at a canter. Marco Negri, for once, didn’t have his shooting boots on, he did win a penalty and have two assists though. At 0-0 he headed over from 6 yards out, a powerful downward header bouncing up and over the bar. I always think if you asked a player to do this that they would score every time. He also had a goal, wrongly, disallowed for offside. The game is still on YouTube and honestly, it’s not even close. Watching the game back I thought that was Rangers 1-0 up and couldn’t understand how the game finished 3-3 when Rangers had scored 4!!
Rangers went 2-0 up through a Negri penalty and a trademark Albertz strike from just inside the box following a Negri flick on only to be pegged back to 2-2. Rangers inability to defend with any sort of confidence or organisation costing them dearly as basic errors cost them. Even when Laudrup scored his famous lob from the byline to put Rangers 3-2 in front the game didn’t look safe and the fans fears were proven when Aberdeen equalised again through inept defending.
Rangers had lost in the League Cup to Dundee Utd four days earlier at Ibrox, written off as a one-off due to the number of chances that Rangers created and because they had beaten them in the league 5-1 already. It wasn’t the attack or forward play that had been troubling Walter Smith, it was the defence. He had bought Stale Stensaas, Lorenzo Amoruso and Sergio Porrini to play with Joachim Bjorklund. On paper this is a solid, reliable defence. A mixture of strength, pace and confidence on the ball added to European experience at the highest level.
Amoruso didn’t play the whole season because of injury and this is when the problems began. Richard Gough had left the club in the summer after 9 in a row, presumably after being told by Smith that his appearances would be limited. This led to Porrini playing as a centre half for most of the early part of the season. For those too young to remember, think of Sasa Papac playing as a centre half and as a full back, almost two different players. It also meant that Craig Moore was used as a right back or that Gordan Petric had to play at centre half. Big Oz is remembered for his form alongside Amoruso in Dick Advocaat’s reign as a centre half, those that saw him at right back will tell you – he certainly wasn’t a right back. It also didn’t help Andy Goram’s dodgy knees letting him down to the tune of 20 games.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, we had a potentially solid defence but were playing them in the wrong positions. Porrini at right back, Moore at centre half alongside Jocky Bjorklund and Stensaas at left back. Each player in their most natural position. You could see what Smith was doing playing his most experienced players in the middle but too often it led to basic mistakes being made as demonstrated in this game.
It was, unfortunately, the theme for the season, Smith trying various combinations and formations including 3 at the back with Alex Cleland at right wing back. In an act of desperation Smith brought Gough back to the club a few months into the season but by this time Rangers were out of the Champions League, the UEFA Cup and the League Cup. Points had also been dropped in the league giving an early advantage to a rejuvenated Celtic.
It was a frustrating season. Gascoigne and Laudrup suffered an alarming drop in form. Negri started on fire then went awol after January. If the defence had been more consistent and given the rest of a team a platform who knows what could have been achieved. In midfield and the forward positions Rangers were still better than any team in the league, but this wasn’t enough. Goals win games but defences win championships!