And we’re back! A swallow doesn’t make a summer, but last night’s game at Ibrox provided not only a vital 3 points, but also showed a lot of the qualities that had been lacking from the previous two matches in the SPL.
Interim manager Graham Murty made two changes from the defeat in Inverness with Andy Halliday and Danny Wilson making way for Jason Holt and Clint Hill respectively, and from kick off there was an intensity about the home side with shots on goal from Emerson Hyndman, Barry McKay and curling effort from Jason Holt just wide of the up-right. Rangers pressed and were solid, all apart from John Toral who had a terrible opening 20 minutes. His slack pass 40 yards from goal gave St Johnstone an early opportunity which went wide of Foderingham’s left hand post. Toral then gave away possession again with a poor header, gifting another Saints attack which thankfully came to nothing, then he decided to attempt a slide tackle which looked comical. After that though, he decided to play it simple sitting in the hole and never gave the ball away again, and grew into the match, although questions could be asked about his defensive abilities for the Saints first goal?
After a whirlwind opening 21 minutes Hyndman skipped down the left again, the ball eventually broke out to the edge of the 18 yard box and the impressive Barry McKay crashed in a low precision shot neatly past keeper Zander Clark. Ibrox went wild with a celebration and relief in equal measures. Rangers kept probing for the remainder of the half with efforts from Waghorn and Hyndman testing Clark. There were some lovely periods of football as well, at times just that clinical final third element lacking, with a tendency to try and walk the ball into the net very evident again. As Murty said himself afterwards though “The game should have been over by half time”.
Two minutes into the second half though, and St Johnstone’s Liam Craig will wake up still wondering how he managed to miss the target from six yards out. The Rangers fans jeered mockingly, but in truth it should have been 1-1. This seemed to give Rangers a second half shake though, and almost immediately broke down the right wing. Holt held up the play well and played it to Kenny Miller who’s first time cross was met at the near post by a Martyn Waghorn bullet header. The Englishman’s desire to get onto Miller’s cross was excellent and Ibrox erupted again, 2-0 Rangers and game over……or so we thought. Definitely the players did, who collectively decided to put the tools away. Credit to the Perth side though, who came right back into it. David Wotherspoon was afforded time inside the corner of the Rangers box, and he looked up and dispatched a lovely curling shot into Foderingham’s top left hand corner. Suddenly it was game on again, but not before the much maligned Rob Kiernan saw red, both figuratively and literally! With the ball at his feet in front of the technical area right on the half way line posing no threat, St Johnstone’s Cummings was cruelly clattered into from behind. Referee Clancy showed the Rangers defender a straight red and the Bears were down to 10 men.
St Johnstone smelled blood after that, and in 87 minutes won a corner. A poor corner in truth fizzed across the Rangers box, but it was poorly cleared by Hill who teed it up for Anderson who stroked it home from 8 yards out. 2-2 and if anyone looked like sneaking it at this stage it was the Saints. To their credit though, Rangers found another gear again and man of the match Hyndman was at the heart of all things productive. With time running out though the desire to walk the ball into the box was grating on the Ibrox faithful but on one of the last attacks Hyndman blasted a shot off the bar, and substitute Garner smashed the post from 3 yards! In the 92nd minute though Hyndman controlled an awkward ball, letting it drop on the volley, and the ball went low into Clarks bottom left. Ibrox went wild with what was largely the last kick of the ball and Rangers won 3-2. For the neutral this must have been as good a game as any this season, but up in the Club Deck my heart was racing. A really enjoyable victory all in all though, but the most pleasing aspect was the general performances and attitude of the players who, to a man, stepped up.
Special mention goes to James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn for their endeavour and work ethic, something that had been lacking recently. Credit where it’s due though, especially for Tav who made tackles, won headers, made himself available at every opportunity and was an attacking threat. Waghorn will feel aggrieved at both having a stonewall penalty denied when he was clearly scythed down in the box, and then was substituted for Joey Garner. Clint Hill strolled the match and was decisive in the tackle, but to a man Rangers were night and day compared to the last two outings.
More of the same required this Saturday in the Scottish Cup Quarter Final against Hamilton at Ibrox. The Accies are 2 for 2 from their last two SPL outings and will provide a stern test, but if Rangers continue in this fashion with the same line-up then a semi place should hopefully be on the cards.