Our final pre-season match of this summer saw us win 2-0 at Hillsborough in a solid, energetic performance. The atmosphere from the travelling fans was every bit as vibrant, which made for a game more akin to a league match than a pre-season friendly.
This time last year, I was down in Newcastle, unable to watch the game against Burnley. Twitter, pretty much the new and improved Teletext, kept me up to date, as many fans lamented just how far behind the Clarets we were.
I faced the same situation today. In Newcastle, unable to watch the game live, I turned to Twitter and updates via friends. It was pretty much the opposite in terms of reactions, though. I expected a difficult game or a result which would see many go back to worrying about the season ahead. Instead, we got a good performance, a more than deserved result, and plenty of signs that things will be much better this season. Watching the game later that night on Rangers TV was an enjoyable experience.
Due to an injury for Tavernier, the starting team included Hodson, and Foderingham took his place back in goals. Aside from that, the team was the same as against Watford. I expected Kranjcar to start in place of Windass, but the latter more than proved why it seems he’s played his way back into Caixinha’s plans during the game.
With their captain on the bench, and Forestieri not starting, it’s fair to say it wasn’t the strongest side Sheffield Wednesday have which began the game. However, on paper, many would argue that they have a stronger squad than us, and that should be the case given the money they’ve spent this last few seasons. They had numerous internationalists starting the game, and would certainly have fancied their chances after some decent pre-season results.
Our intent to dominate possession yet play with a direct mindset was clear from the off. Alves and Cardoso weren’t scared to go longer if required, and most of the passing was forward rather than sideways. The offside flag was raised a good few times against us, a real sign of our style of play.
MORE RANGERS STORIES
One of those offsides came when Windass made a great run on the blindside of the defenders and Dorrans picked him out with a through ball. Westwood made the save from Windass, the ball tapped in by Herrera, but the flag denied the Mexican his first goal. The decision looked like a tight one, and replays weren’t from a great camera angle to be sure of it, but it was a foreshadowing of what was to come.
Our play in wide areas looked incisive, with both Candeias and Windass getting in crosses which were unlucky not to lead to more. Jack and Dorrans were controlling the game in midfield, putting a real question mark over why Bannan is considered ahead of both in the Scotland set-up. Wednesday’s only chances came from Bannan, shots from distance which went high and wide.
Despite some good football, Rangers couldn’t quite get any clear-cut chances. That allowed Wednesday to get back into the game a little. The opening goal on 42 minutes was arguably against the run of play, but was deserved over the piece. Cardoso won the ball high up the pitch and was able to find Jack in space. The midfielder threaded a lovely ball through for Windass, who had made another run beyond the defenders. Onside this time, he took a touch before slotting past Westwood at the near post. The players celebrated like it was a normal league game, and the fans ramped up the already-frenzied atmosphere even further.
At the start of the second half, Wednesday made a couple of substitutions and looked far more threatening. Some loose play from Rangers also contributed to a 10-minute spell where Wednesday looked certain to score. Their best chance fell to Jordan Rhodes after the ball deflected into his path, 3 yards from goal. Somehow, Foderingham made himself big, got down early, and blocked the shot in his first real action of the game.
It proved to be a vital save, as Rangers scored their second against the run of play shortly afterwards. A quick free-kick from Dorrans released Wallace on the left, who put in a cross towards Herrera. With the ball slightly behind him, the Mexican used his body to hold off the defenders, allowing Miller to take a good touch and lash the ball home from around 15 yards. At 2-0 after 55 minutes, you consider it job done in a friendly in many ways.
However, the game was being taken seriously by both sides. Straight from the kick-off, Rangers fashioned another great chance, with a lovely through ball from Windass putting Wallace one-on-one with the keeper. His attempt to chip it past him was blocked, but his momentum caused Westwood to clash face-first with his hip, a sore one to take in any sort of game. A few minutes of physio attention passed before the keeper was substituted, and in many ways that hurt the momentum of the game.
After that, neither side could lay claim to really dominating the game, with substitutions also slowing things down. Foderingham made another couple of decent saves, one which was made when the player was offside, but Rangers largely played out the last half hour in a professional fashion.
The intensity of the game, some of the fouls and reactions to challenges, all pointed to a match where both sides had an intent to show they were ready for the season ahead. It was a perfect type of match to have before the season starts, and also a confidence-booster to boot. Whilst we face a different type of challenge in the upcoming league games where teams will be more intent on stopping us playing, we can take some heart from the last few games and results.
The man of the match was more difficult to identify this time. Ryan Jack and Graham Dorrans were excellent in midfield, and our centre halves looked very comfortable. However, I feel Josh Windass deserves it, not only for his goal but for his all-round performance and energy.
RANGERS: Foderingham; Hodson, Cardoso, Alves, Wallace; Windass (Kranjcar, 74), Jack, Dorrans (Holt, 90+4), Candeias (Waghorn, 89); Miller (Wilson, 86), Herrera (Morelos, 80).
SUBS NOT USED: Alnwick, Dalcio, Bates, Pena.
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY: Westwood (Wildsmith, 61), Jones, Reach, Hooper (Loovens, 45), Lees, Rhodes (Fletcher, 65), Boyd (Nuhiu 76), Hunt, Wallace (Forestieri, 45), Pudil, Bannan.
SUBS NOT USED: Dawson, Lee, Abdi, Winnall, Baker, Joao, Matias, Thorniley, Fox.