I’ve already found myself at that stage where I think I remember specifics of games, but couldn’t tell you the game in question.
Years ago, I’m sure we played a game at Ibrox where we were drawing 1-1 going into the late stages. Being at home, and being Rangers, we threw on every attacking player we could and chased the win. It backfired, as our opposition broke up the park and scored. I’m sure I remember about three forwards and two wingers (Kanchelskis being a late sub), but I can’t remember much else!
Maybe I’m mistaken or mixing up memories of games. Maybe someone with a better memory will be able to help me out. Regardless, it’s fair to say that drawing a game at home is something we as a support never just accept from our team. Even against stronger opposition during our run to the UEFA Cup final, many fans complained about our defensive approach. It’s a mindset and demand that many players who come to Rangers never fully adapt to. Years of playing in games where you learn how to see out a draw after 70 minutes isn’t easy to get rid of.
The reason I mention this is because of the reaction to the approach Caixinha took on Saturday. There’s rightly been loads of discussion surrounding the referee. There have been ill-advised statements about the Hibs manager. I can’t add much to either of those discussions. What I would like to do is present a couple of justifications for how Pedro decided to play the second half. I’m by no means saying it was the only way to play. I’m certainly not suggesting I’m somehow correct and others wrong. I just feel that the discussion could do with a bit more fleshing-out.
To begin, you have to consider the expectations. When Ryan Jack was sent off, the game sat at 1-1. From the re-start of play after all the fallout, there was around 90 seconds and one break of play. Said break, a throw in to Hibs, came only 30 seconds after the game got going again. From 1-1 to 2-1 down, there was next to no chance of making a substitution. The circumstances had changed, the approach requiring more thought. Rossiter had already been sent out to warm up, but suddenly Pedro had to consider other options. Had it stayed level, the chances are Rossiter would have come on for one of the forwards and we’d have tried to keep it tight, maybe sneaking a win with a set piece or counter attack. At 2-1 down, that option no longer existed.
Whilst no changes were made before the break, Pedro seemed to make his mind up pretty quickly. Wilson and Herrera were warming up before the interval. A change of shape and an attempt to get bodies forward was the way Caixinha felt we had to go.
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Obviously, it didn’t work out. There are various reasons we can point to for that but is the argument that Caixinha took the wrong approach a reasonable one?
Personally, I don’t believe so.
Pedro Caixinha has confirmed more than once that his approach this season is to play every game like a cup final. In his words, the only option is to win. Like many in the support, he doesn’t see a draw at home as a good result. He certainly doesn’t want to play for one in any way. With all of that in mind, we shouldn’t have been surprised by how he tried to get us back into the game.
Criticism and suggestions that we should have brought on a midfielder and kept it tight are driven mainly by the result. The idea that a good manager would have found a way to get a result is in no way backed up by evidence. You only need to look at Chelsea, down to 10 men early with a top-class manager and world-class squad. They were 3-0 down before half time. The vast majority of games where a side loses a player to a red card will see that team lose the game. That is the expectation, with any sort of positive result being a bonus. We can all point to past examples of this not being the case, but the fact there’s so few of them to point to is rather telling.
If the mindset and philosophy is one of every game being like a cup final, Pedro had to play the way he did. From that perspective, he was right to take the risk. In many ways, it’s what we as supporters deserve from our team.
But you’d be right to ask if a manager should be looking beyond such a mentality. After all, a draw is better than a defeat. So from a tactical perspective, was he wrong?
This is a bit more difficult to assess. It was clear we gave up in midfield. Knowing that Hibs would have a spare man and continue to have a go, we asked Dorrans to sit deeper, Miller to try and support the forwards, and just denied them space when off the ball. We left Hanlon loads of room to be that man extra, in the knowledge he wouldn’t hurt us very much. The hope was that we’d get it forward, make it stick and see what we could create. No matter what approach we took, the game was very difficult to get anything from. Leaving their spare man to be one of the three centre halves, hoping to drag him out of position, wasn’t a poor idea. We didn’t manage to get the result due to mistakes for their third goal and a couple of missed chances, but those aren’t tactical issues.
I agree that it wasn’t the conventional way of approaching the scenario we were in. The convention, though, doesn’t apply to Rangers in a game at Ibrox. We don’t play to keep a score down or hope for a draw. We pretty much demand the win, and Caixinha very much shares that ethos.
If we’d brought on Rossiter, tried to keep it tighter, and not found the goal to draw at least, the reaction would have been similarly negative. The fans in the ground would have complained we weren’t going for it, and the same would be said after the game. The tactical nous or decision making of a manager is judged purely by results, but in many cases, the result isn’t a fair barometer. Going 2-1 down so quickly after the red card meant that Hibs were strong favourites to win the game. The wrong approach would have seen us lose by far more. There’s a very real chance that the best we could get from the game was the result we got. Hoping for better is what fans should do, but expecting more in those circumstances wasn’t justifiable.
The debate on how good a manager Caixinha will be for Rangers isn’t going away anytime soon. Better squads than this one have lost at home to Hibs, sometimes against a Hibs side not as strong as the one we faced at the weekend. Whilst I have my reasons for not agreeing with those who want Pedro sacked already, I do at least understand why they feel that way. What I can’t understand, or see as a fair argument, is that Saturday’s game should be included in his list of mistakes. What looked like a cracking game of football where we had played the better of the teams in the first 36 minutes was ruined by shocking refereeing. Hibs were having a good spell in the match but were in no way in control. After the red card, there was no “right” approach, just a few options all very dependent upon luck.
From the perspective of intention, our second half was the correct way to attempt to get back in the game. Tactically, everything was dependent upon hopes rather than having strong control over our fate in the game. Our manager decided to try and win – surely that’s what we should be asking of him every game? If we demand to win at all costs, we have to remember that sometimes that approach will cost us.