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  1. The games keep coming thick and fast and the latest has Hibs visiting Ibrox on Boxing Day with a 3pm KO (UK time). Like the previous game and the one to follow, this sees another hugely important and significant 3 points at stake. After our crucial and notable late comeback at St. Johnstone, it would be typical of this December if we were to drop points in the next match because we don't seem able to do consistency. This game is where that needs to change if we want to harbour any hopes of providing a title challenge. The first half of the season has seen a gruelling but welcome non-stop timetable of games, with 3 International breaks providing some respite for some in the squad. It is now ending with a particularly heavy block of fixtures and it's therefore no surprise to see an extensive injury list going into the final two games of 2018. In short, over the next 2 games Steven Gerrard & Co need to get more out of a squad of bare bones than they previously have from a fuller squad. - Tav is looking tired but gives 100% and still provides creativity. - Central defence has become an issue and just when we seem to settle on a partnership, McAuley gets injured. - The Barisic injury is a huge blow IMO and you now have Boyle and Forrest licking their lips. The midfield and wide areas have taken a real hit. On top of the long term injuries and departures, we have at least question marks over Arfield, Jack, Kent, Rossiter, Grezda and Coulibaly for either injury, poor form or a lack of gametime. It's just as well that we have Morelos and Lafferty up front. Any debate over formation/playing them both may be decided due to lack of midfield options. For all the criticism Alfredo gets regards his discipline, you have to marvel at how over a heavy season and a half at Ibrox he doesn't seem to pick up injuries; the guy is a machine. Steven Gerrard mentioned an adaptable approach and one option is to play Lafferty and being able to switch between a deeper role and one closer to Morelos (only an option if the Ulster Gazelle is fully fit). If Jack is fit then he'll surely start and that may in turn push Halliday back to LB. McGregor Tavernier - Goldson - Worral - Wallace Candeias - McCrorie - Halliday - Middleton Lafferty Morelos Hibs haven't been playing that well of late and we should have taken all 3 points from Easter Road last week. However they often raise their game at Ibrox and I'd expect them to again. Recent history has seen this fixture providing goals (except for last week) and no team with a clear upper hand regards wins. In my opinion, it's one of those games that could go any way, but if we can up our conversion rate then I think we win. Prior to the 2 goals in 25 minutes on Sunday, we'd scored 2 in 550 minutes; hopefully, we have turned a corner. Certainly Lafferty is due a goal. Am I right thinking he's started to celebrate goals in the last three matches, only to be halted by a bad offside decision at Dundee, a great save by the Hibs keeper and a somewhat unfortunate deflection and save at St. Johnstone? I call upon the footballing gods to give big Laff a deserved break!
  2. Sunday, 23 December 2018 - KO 12:15 The Scottish Premiership McDiarmid Park St. Johnstone FC v Rangers FC Referee - Nick Walsh Assistants - Graeme Stewart and Sean Carr Fourth Official - Gavin Ross Missing: Jamie Murphy (Knee), Graham Dorrans (Knee), Ryan Kent (thigh), Umar Sadiq (loan deal terminated), Ovie Ejaria (see Sadiq), Scott Arfield (calf) Doubtful: Connor Goldson, Gareth McAuley Live on BT Sport 1 and Rangers TV
  3. On Wednesday we travel to Easter Road to play to play Hibernian. Or should that be Christmas road at this time of the year? I hope we get plenty of gifts anyway. Hibs got off to a mixed start to the season that saw them languishing down in the basement regions of the SPFL. From tanking Hamilton 6-0 on October the sixth to beating Hamilton on December the eighth they could not buy a win for love nor money. Even the bottom strugglers Dundee and St Mirren managed to hold them to a draw. Then on Sunday when Brendon Rogers brought his green and grey hoops over to the Auld Reekie they some how dug out a performance that sent Brendon's Rogered troopers back to Glasgow with their tail between their legs. Hibs were electric to be honest. They played a high energy quick pressing game that had the mighty Sellick short-circuiting all over the grid. The big question for Neil Lennon on Wednesday is that is this new found green energy sustainable to try the same tactics for two high voltage games in a row or will the Hibee's batteries be running on empty for the visit of Rangers. Rangers form of late has also been like walking with lead boots on. In the past few weeks we dropped two points to a bottom of the league Dundee team who had ten men for a large part of the game.We have some wonderful passages of football but when we get into the final third of the field we have been missing that cutting edge. Most teams having a packed penalty area where you need a killer pass which we have been lacking to make breakthrough. That is mostly caused by fear to take a chance and take an easier option. Poor decision making and sometimes just pure bad luck. One example of poor decision making on Sunday was Eros Grezda getting the ball about seven yards out just to the left of the goal. He had pulled the defenders away from lafferty who stood as free as a bird in the middle of the goal. Instead of a right footed pass to Lafferty he pulled the ball to his left foot and shot aimlessly into the side net where that corner of the goal was well guarded by the keeper and defenders. Hibs weak point is is in defence so I may be be inclined to go for a 4-4-2 with Kyle Lafferty and Alfredo Morelos up front. I know this hasn't been a great success in the past but if Hibs keep the same tactics as with Celtic and press the midfield high up then we may have to go for a longer game to force them onto the back foot. We all know that Ambrose is a walking time-bomb and he was accompanied by the nineteen year old Ryan Porteous who had a good game against Celtic but keeping a lackadaisical Édouard at bay is a different kettle of fish than a bustling Lafferty and ever working Alfredo Morelos. I think the back four is now starting to be the fast formation of Tavernier, McAuley Goldson, Barasic. I would the go for a midfield of Candeias, Jack\McCrorie, Arfield and Grezda with Lafferty and Morelos up front. That would make the team: Mcgregor Tavernier McAuley Goldson Barasic Jack Candeias Arfield Grezda Morelos Lafferty One thing we need to watch is the Hibs striker Florian Kamberi as he has really impressed me when I have seen him. He also scored a cracker of a goal against Celtic on Sunday. I have also chosen Jack over McCrorie as I think Jack is a little bit more flexible in managing to break forward. C'mon the Gers!
  4. Steven Gerrard has called on Rangers to return to winning ways when they host Hamilton in a "very important" game on Sunday. Having been top of the Scottish Premiership earlier this month, Rangers have since lost to Aberdeen, drawn with struggling Dundee and been knocked out of the Europa League after a 1-0 defeat to Rapid Vienna. "We have had a tough week in terms of results, so we need to get back to winning ways," said Gerrard. Steven Gerrard says his side will need to be at their best to beat Hamilton in the Scottish Premiership as they aim to return to winning ways "The Hamilton fixture becomes very important to us and it is important the players understand that. "Emotions are always running high in the dressing room, the media and the terraces after a couple of bad results so it is important we get back to winning." Rangers won 4-1 when the two sides met in October. Team news Rangers' Alfredo Morelos is suspended but Daniel Candeias returns from a European ban. Ovie Ejaria's involvement is uncertain after manager Steven Gerrard admitted he would be holding talks with the "unsettled" on-loan Liverpool midfielder. Ryan Kent (hamstring) is still out along with long-term absentees Graham Dorrans and Jamie Murphy (both knee). Match stats Rangers have won 14 of their 16 Scottish Premiership games against Hamilton (D1 L1), including each of the last two by an aggregate scoreline of 9-4. Hamilton's only victory against Rangers in the Scottish Premiership came in their last visit to Ibrox in November 2017 (2-0), having failed to win any of their previous six away matches against them in the competition (D1 L5). Rangers were beaten 1-0 by Aberdeen in their last Scottish Premiership game at Ibrox, ending a run of 10 home league matches without defeat (W9 D1) - they last lost consecutive home fixtures in the top-flight back in March. Hamilton have lost four of their last five Scottish Premiership games (W1), failing to score in each of those defeats. James Tavernier has been directly involved in eight goals in his last eight appearances for Rangers in the Scottish Premiership (3 goals, 5 assists). https://www.skysports.com/football/rangers-vs-hamilton/preview/391243
  5. It's been exactly five months since Rangers started their competitive season. The World Cup Final was still to be played, most of us were on our summer holidays and it's fair to say (new manager notwithstanding) few of us were confident about making much progress (that's progress) in the Europa League again this season. Fast forward to mid-December and a fairly impressive run in the competition reaches an important fork in the road this Thursday evening in Austria. It's quite simple: win, and we're through to the knockout stages despite being the fourth seeded team. Lose, and we're out. Now, speaking on the Gersnet Podcast this week, I was keen to highlight the positives of going further in Europe. Sure, we've already played over 30 games this season so we don't really need any more matches than we have already but there are too many good reasons not to want a win. First and foremost, the income from going through keeps us ahead of schedule in the Steven Gerrard rebuild - for it's easy to forget we've still only just started that. Secondly, the profile from reaching the latter stages could be useful in terms of attracting any new players in future transfer windows. Finally, and perhaps most importantly in the short term, the morale boost would prove invaluable to a team that has looked somewhat jaded in recent days. The loss to Aberdeen, followed by a dreadful draw in Dundee on Sunday, means our good work at Tynecastle the previous week was undone in a matter of a few days. If (and it remains a big if) we want to make an SPFL title challenge, then momentum has to be built up and maintained for the rest of this month in particular. Ergo, whilst a win over Rapid may not win us anything domestically, it could still prove vital. Unfortunately, despite criticisms of the manager for tinkering too often with his line-ups, more changes are likely to the starting XI for this game. It appears Ryan Kent is injured again and didn't travel whilst Candeias and Rossiter are both unavailable as well - the former to suspension after his ridiculous red card versus Villarreal, whilst the latter wasn't named in the 25 man squad in August. The good news is Steven Gerrard still has plenty options at his disposal, not least a return to action for Morelos and Arfield after recent SPFL suspensions. Meanwhile Borna Barisic is available after missing most of the Europa campaign with injury. We should be able to name a strong team. Trying to anticipate a Gerrard starting line-up can be a fool's errand though and the defence is notoriously hard to predict. Yes, Allan McGregor and James Tavernier will be first picks but you can perm any three from six for the other roles. Despite some poor form, I think Connor Goldson remains the pick of the central bunch for me so he should start and it may be a coin toss to see who partners him between McAuley and Katic who perhaps deserves a return to the side ahead of Joe Worrall. At left back, Jon Flanagan started in the corresponding fixture at Ibrox two months ago as he was selected 'to do a specific job' by the manager that evening. Some poor form since means Barisic may be more likely but it wouldn't be a major surprise to see the Croatian actually play in front of Andy Halliday on the left flank with the latter doing well at left back so far when called upon. Indeed, it will be further forward in the team where Gerrard will have vital choices to make after two disappointing attacking performances in the Scottish league. One would expect Morelos will lead the line but who plays behind him is less certain. As touched on above, could Barisic feature on the left or might the industry and unpredictability of Kyle Lafferty may be preferred? Eros Grezda is another option but he should start on the right due to Candeias' suspension. Glenn Middleton has struggled of late so it will be the bench for him. Centrally, we've missed the late runs and goal threat of Scott Arfield so he should be a stick on to return to the side. That leaves us two more defensive roles to fill. Although Ryan Jack is another who hasn't really impressed in recent weeks, I think he has been better than the disappointing Coulibaly. It's a shame the on-loan Angers player hasn't been able to find his form after a family bereavement and it will be very interesting to see if he's favoured over Ovie Ejaria and Ross McCrorie who are our other options in midfield. In any case, Rangers will have to look after and use the ball a lot better than they've done of late if they've not only to keep Vienna on the back-foot but create the kind of chances we'll need if we're to win. Even after two awful league results, I'm starting to get excited ahead of the game on Thursday. As the butterflies rise in my stomach I'm hoping this is equating to the roller-coaster climbing again towards another exciting run of good results. It's that kind of pace and tempo we'll need if we're to turnaround the disappointment of the last week and right those wrongs. We're more than capable of winning - let's hope all the players selected have that same confidence and belief. Possible team (4-2-3-1):
  6. Watching Wednesday's game against Aberdeen made my mind travel back to 1974. Nothing to do with a football match but to the best boxer the world has ever known, Mohammed Ali, or Cassius Clay as he was originally known. Ali was to take on George Foreman in a fight that was to be called 'The Rumble in the Jungle' because it was to take place in Zaire (today's Republic of Congo). An ageing Ali, the punch and move boxer, who's favourite saying was “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee; The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see.” Ali, though, was the massive underdog to the younger, stronger, iron-fisted, hard hitting Foreman. Very few could see Ali coming away with a victory. In the first round Ali started dancing around the ring throwing his jabs. Foreman though had done his homework and was using one stride to force Ali around the inside perimeter of the ring. Ali realised that in the heat of the Jungle he could never keep moving for the full fight. In the corner at the end of the first round he said to Angelo Dundee his trainer that he had a new tactic. He said, “I am going to rope-a-dope”. Ali stopped running and retreated to the ropes and let Foreman throw punch after punch with flailing arms. All the punches were wayward or to places that didn't hurt. Ali was taunting Foreman with “come on George I thought you could hit.” With all the misplaced punches Foreman was tiring quickly. Even when he did hit Ali with what he thought was his best shot Ali just taunted him more laughing at Foreman. Eventually Foreman could hardly lift his arms and in eighth round Ali with his back on the ropes enticed Foreman forward. A number of Right hooks further followed by some combination punches and finished with a massive left hook Forman went down on the Canvas. He got up at eight but the referee counted him out. Aberdeen on Wednesday used a football version of Ali's tactics. Aberdeen roped-a-dope. Unfortunately it was against Rangers. They applied tactics that saw Rangers attacking punches fizzle out in a packed midfield. They let Rangers pass the ball in places where it did not hurt. They committed niggling fouls and taunted our leading scorer to a red card. They slowed the game down to crawling pace with a bit of help from the referee who blew his whistle for every bump on passing. You could almost hear the words ”Come on Rangers: is that the best you can do?” Unfortunately on the night it was the best we could do. The only difference to Rangers and Foreman was that the knock-out blow came after 7 minutes and other 83 minutes were just the pre-programmed nerve cells of a headless chicken making the movement. Gerrard said after the game that the team plan they had worked on all week was not adhered to and to be honest it was easy to see that it was Aberdeen's team plan we were watching. One last thing is that George Foreman said he learned a lesson that night and never made the same mistake again so let's hope Gerrard and this Rangers team will also learn from this very sore lesson. The players have now until Sunday to lick their wounds and get into shape for our visit to Dundee. Although Dundee are bottom of the league they have had an upsurge of form over the last few weeks drawing against St Mirren and Hibs and beating Hamilton at home 4-0 on Wednesday. Two players we know who will definitely not play are Scott Arfield and Alfredo Morelos. Both miss the game due to having received stupid red cards in recent games. As these two players have been our most productive in goals and probably creative play they are going to be a huge miss at Dens Park. You could see on Wednesday what a miss Arfield is with his darting late runs through the heart of defences. We just don't have another player with the will to burst a gut and make those piercing runs. Ejaria and Coulibaly work hard enough but in the months that they have been at Rangers their creative skills have been virtually nonexistent . With Morelos out that puts all our striking responsibilities on Kyle Lafferty. Big Kyle has had to play second fiddle to Morelos this season but with Morelos out for two possibly three games. Sunday gives him the chance to step up to the mark. Lafferty has never been the most popular at Ibrox amongst the supporters but shooting us back to the top of the league will enrich his hand no end. Left back is the other position that throws up questions. Many were surprised to see Jon Flanagan come in for Andy Halliday who had a good game against Hearts. Flanagan was substituted at Half-time as he has been in recent games due to poor form which must throw up the question whether Halliday was carrying an injury. Personally I hope Borna Barisic is fit again to play. He played 45 minutes for the reserves at the beginning of the week so with nearly a full week of training he really should be fit to play unless he has had a relapse. I am pretty sure Ejaria will be in the starting line-up as Rossiter does not seem to be an option. I have also no idea how far Andy Dallas is from the first team but we really need another striker on the bench. That said we must also not forget the deeds of opposing striker Kenny Miller who scored a hat-trick for Dundee on Wednesday It is time for Rangers to get straight back off the canvas and box clever. Beating Dundee is not punching above our weight. No more stupid red or yellow cards, just a footballing knock-out blow to secure the win. C'mon the Gers!!! Possible team:
  7. Just when you think it is time to stop for a breath you realise the next game is tomorrow already. Villarreal have come and gone with a 0-0 draw and poor Daniel Candeias undeservedly getting sent off for the second time in a few weeks. Again a referee invented a story to cover up the cock-up he himself conjoured up. Funnily enough Rangers have ended up with a one game knockout fight with Rapid Vienna and our mission is clear. We must win or the Europaleague will be in cold storage until next season. Anyway that is for another day the Europaleague has to take second place as we have to fly into preperation mode for our big game against Hearts at Tynecastle. What a massive match this game has turned into for us. Due to Celtic playing Aberdeen in the League cup final Rangers have a fantastic chance to go top of the league. Yes, Celtic will have a game in hand but it is points they have to win and it puts just a little bit more pressure on them to do so. It will be great to see all the grudging headlines on Monday pronouncing us league leaders, We will of course have to flick through three pages of Aberdeen v Celtic and use a magnifying glass to see the headline. Their game in hand will also be well highlighted you can put your bottom dollar on that. Before we are that far though we have the difficult task of getting a winning result at Tynecastle. Hearts have been in poor form of late only taking just one point from their last four matches, losing 2-0 in their last game against relegation fighters St Mirren 2-0. When Rangers stride into town though all the form books go out the window. Teams seem to find a bit of extra fight that they had lost in the games running up to our game. In Hearts favour, they have had some reasonable games against Celtic of late beating them 4-0 last season and 1-0 this season at Tynecastle. They have since lost their two main forwards in Kyle Lafferty, who was transferred to us, and also Steven Naismith to in jury. The ex-ger was the leagues top scorer before he was injured and was also first pick striker for the Scotland team. The Hearts manager Craig Levein, is a manager who builds his teams on being hard to beat rather than a full out attacking machine. I don't think anyone will forget his 4-6-0 formation when he was the Scotland manager in a must win game. I doubt he will play that on Sunday but he will certainly have his team organised and well drilled. That does not mean they will park the bus in a ten man eighteen yard block, just that they will play out from a solid defence. With the Rangers players having had that difficult game on Thursday in their legs, Steven Gerrard may look to freshen things up a little. In his press conference he emphasised the point that Daniel Candeias would at least have fresh legs for Sunday, so I would imagine that makes him a starter. I think he may bring back Eros Grezda and give young Glenn Middleton a rest on the bench. Grezda looked to be starting to show some good form and scored two goals in the 7-1 thrashing of Motherwell before being dropped back to the bench for the last two games. Strangely he has not even appeared as a substitute as he was starting to show some good form. I doubt Gerrard will drop the fantastic in form Alan McGregor and I will guess that Tavernier and Goldson will keep their places. I expect McAuley to return to the team in place of Worrel and with Borna Barisic fit again after a two month lay-off he will come in at left-back. Left-back has been a problem position for us of late with Halliday and Flanagan being pretty shaky to say the least. Flanagan almost gifting Villarreal a goal on Thursday if it was not for McGregor making a wonder save. The other position worth discussing is the central midfield role. With Rossiter,Jack, Ejaria, Arfield, Coulibaly and McCrorie all with their hat in the ring. I would be surprised if Gerrard dropped Ryan Jack or scott Arefield for this one so that leaves a choice between Coulibally or Ejaria for me as I don't think the others will start. Ejaria missed out on Wednesday while Coulibaly excelled against Villarreal so that is a really difficult choice to make. I think Gerrard may go with the slightly more attacking Ejaria to try and play in the Hearts half but my own choice would be Coulibaly as I feel Ejaria flatters to deceive and slows the game down by his twisting and turning on the ball. We saw how Villarreal can slice through the midfield with quick one touch passing and that is what I miss with Ejaria. I think Gerrard will go with Ejaria though. The team I think Gerrard will play is: McGregor Tavernier McAuley Goldson Barisic Jack Ejaria Candeias Arefield Grezda Morelos. I personally would go with Coulibaly. We have not been top of the league since 2011. It has been a long wait so hopefully that wait comes to an end on Sunday and we return to where we belong. Onwards and upwards. C'mon the Gers!!!
  8. On Thursday we welcome Villareal to our rebuilt fortress Ibrox for the next game in the oh so exciting, or is it stressful, Europa league game. These are the games we have been looking forward to since 2012. And what a group this has turned into. Only two points split all four teams so every team can still survive after the winter stop. There is no point in crying over spilt milk but we really should be sitting on easy street after the two games against Spartak Moscow. Although I never saw the game in Moscow I can pull my hair out to think we scored three goals away from home and still came away with "Nul Points". That was even magnified if you see the, perfectly good, chalked off goal from Alfredo Morelos. That goal would have put us 4-2 up and changed the whole complexion of the game. That said the defending on that evening left a lot to be desired. Due to the resulting 4-3 defeat that result means if we want to keep qualifying for the next round in our own hands then a win is a must against Villareal. If we don't win then it means we are depending on some favourable results from the other matches. A win for Rapid Vienna over Spartak would keep it mathematically possible to qualify even if we lose, but it would playing Russian Roulette in the last set of games. Villareal would also not need to play their first team against Spartak as they would be group winners already. If we lose and Spartak beat Rapid then the game's a bogey. Villareal have been having a pretty torrid time this season and are currently lying in sixteenth position in the Primera División. Before last Sunday's win against Real Betis they were actually lying seventeenth, just one place above the relegation zone. After that win they will have picked up a bit of confidence and their European form has not been too bad as they are currently unbeaten in the last ten away Europa league group stage matches. They have won three and drawn seven. I always say though runs and records are there to be broken. I actually watched the first-half of their game on Sunday against Real Betis and I can say that they do look dangerous when they are attacking, but they really look very shaky when defending. Although Betis didn't capitalise on it they got in behind the full-backs on a number of occasions. Looking back on our match in Spain, that is also where our two goals came from. Getting in behind the full-backs is a particular strong point of ours with Tavernier and Candeias linking on the right and hopefully Baricic and Middleton linking on the left. Grezda may also be called to take that left wing position but Middleton has been hitting some fantastic free-kicks and corners and that will probably just give him the nod. So what will Gerrards tactics be. I certainly don't think we will go Gung ho right from the start and I also think it will be wishful thinking to think we will be able to dominate for the greater part of the game, so I think we will set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. We definitely need the defence to be far better than they were in Moscow. Alan McGregor will also probably have to play an important role in that as the Villareal strikers love to shoot on sight as we learned in Spain. I have heard a lot of people say that they would bring back Joe Worall for the game but I have no idea why we would drop Gareth McAuley after his performances of late. Yes, he may be thirty-nine years old but his positional sense and strength in the tackle make up for any loss of speed he may have. Don't forget Davie Weir took us to the UEFA final in 2008. I don't see the defence having the same difficulty with dead ball situations or having to make many headers in this game as the villareal game is mainly on the deck. McAuley made Conner Goldson also look like a far more confident player with his constant instructions. Big Conner was also breaking into the midfield far more on Saturday probably because he trusted MçAuley to mop up at the back. Villareal are a completely different class to Livingston of course. As I said earlier think the team will be set up in a 4-2-3-1 and I am going for the fact that Borna Barisic is fit and will be making his re-entry. If Ejaria does get the nod over Coulibaly then he will need to play a lot better than he did on Saturday. What a shame it would be to throw away that excellent start to the play-offs and go out like a damp squib. I really do think we can get in behind the Villareal defence though and come away with a 2-1 win. C'MON the Gers!
  9. If there's one thing worse than these modern two week international breaks, it's losing the game immediately before it. Fortunately, in our last game against Motherwell, not only did we win, we routed the Lanarkshire side 7-1 so, despite the fortnight's holiday since, confidence should remain high in the Rangers camp. And, given this week's return to SPFL action is against Livingston who beat us a couple of months back, what better way to start a run of 11 games in 35 days than with another decisive Ibrox victory? Of course, despite our excellent home form this season, it's not always as simple as that. First and foremost, Livi deserve a lot of credit for their campaign so far. Yes, their style may not be easy on the eye from time to time; yes, their artificial pitch is very poor, and, yes, they may have dropped down the table since we last played them but to come up from the Championship and do so well after losing two managers since then, says a lot about the character and belief in their squad. Defensively they are very good (with former 'Gers Liam Kelly and Craig Halkett leading the way) but they're also well organised in midfield and work hard throughout the rest of the team to not only concede few goals but to take any chances they do get in attack. As such, Saturday's match is by no means a foregone conclusion and it's unlikely we'll see another seven home goals. The good news for Rangers fans is that since that last league defeat in West Lothian, we've only dropped two points in the league and, despite some indifferent form, have climbed the table ourselves back into third place just two points behind Celtic and Hearts. Moreover, with almost a full squad of players at his disposal, Steven Gerrard will be keen to consolidate and improve upon that position over the winter period. Indeed, with Celtic at Ibrox in five weeks time ahead of the winter break, how good would it be to go into that game, knowing a victory would take (or even keep) us top of the league? Obviously there's a lot of football to be played before that match and Rangers have a hugely demanding run of games. Not only do we still have two vital Europa League games left which could see us progress from our section against what seemed unlikely odds, we have nine league fixtures to complete: including two against Hibs as well as matches versus Hearts and Aberdeen before Celtic visit at the end of the year. It couldn't get any tougher really and we'll see exactly what our players (and manager actually) are made of physically and mentally during the rest of 2018. In that sense, our inconsistency this season has perhaps been understandable. Wholesale changes - not just in our playing squad but in the management/coaching team - means patience has to be a byword for, well, often impatient fans. Of course dropping points against teams like Livi or Killie the other week is disappointing but neither do we have the right to win every game and play well also. With that in mind, the chances of us winning every game between now and the start of 2019 are rather low so whilst we rightly demand the best, it's important we remain behind the team and manager no matter what happens going forward. That's not to excuse bad performance just to understand we have to be realistic in terms of the bigger picture. Even so, realism tells us we should win this weekend. Although these breaks are never good for squad continuity it will have allowed Gerrard and his players time to work on their play and those two weeks will be invaluable as we go into a period of games where rest and recovery will be just as important as actual training. As such, this will mean every player playing their part given it will be impossible to play the same team in every game on this run. This Saturday though demands three points so Gerrard will be keen to play a strong team even if he'll be tempted to keep some players back for the visit of Villarreal on Thursday night. As such, I'd expect an XI along the lines below to start this Saturday. Aside from any likely changes in defence, the way we cleverly handled a physical Motherwell side, should allow for the same attacking players to get the job done against Livi though niggles for the likes of Middleton may now permit that. Luckily, it says a lot about our squad, that guys like Middleton, Lafferty, Katic and Barisic (who could be a key player if he can stay fit) may not start this weekend. Indeed, for the first time in a long time, we could easily start a second XI to do the business in most SPFL games so every player should consider themselves capable of getting into the team at some point. Such competition for places will go a long way to deal with the schedule and deliver the kind of points tally required to offer a genuine title challenge. Is talk of a such a challenge realistic? Perhaps not, perhaps it's too ambitious and certainly premature given the discussion above but at some point we need to believe again and there's no time like the present. Possible team (4-2-3-1):
  10. With another international break imminent, Rangers host Motherwell this Sunday in another important match at Ibrox. Recent weeks have been frustrating for fans, players and manager Steven Gerrard alike with just one win in the last five games: the team haven't played badly but inconsistency, attacking impotency and defensive mistakes have seen us lose games or drop points we should have won. In all these games, Rangers have had periods where they've dominated possession and even in the games we lost (v Aberdeen at Hampden and Spartak in midweek) fans have come away disappointed knowing we could and should have done better. Add in two home draws to Spartak and Kilmarnock then last week's win at St Mirren is our only solace of late. With that in mind, it's interesting to note the lack of consistency in team selection. Injuries and suspensions have proved problematic in this five-game period and the manager has been forced into changes he probably didn't want to make ahead of this international break. Yet, he also made five changes on Thursday night for the trip to Moscow from the team that won in Paisley so not every change was enforced. Given the defence's performance in particular against Spartak, fans are now asking why he won't persevere with a first choice back four instead of rotating Flanagan, Halliday, Katic and Worrall? Sure the sheer number of games will mean defensive change is necessary but wouldn't one at a time be more prudent than two? Midfield has been another area of concern recently with the management team apparently struggling to find a suitable balance in the midfield three and again having to make regular changes. It has to be said none of Coulibaly, Ejaria or Arfield have really found genuine form lately whilst the likes of Rossiter and Jack seem unable to play two games a week due to injury concerns. Meanwhile, Ross McCrorie who had a decent debut season last term has struggled to get any game-time at all this season. We do have plenty depth centrally so it's vital we find a balance we can rely on. Moving into attack, poor discipline at times aside, the contribution of Alfredo Morelos has been fantastic but the question is how long can the young Columbian maintain his goal-scoring and goal-creating form? With Kyle Lafferty unsurprising injured or having off-field issues, his signing has been a poor one so far - especially when the manager and fans seem less than enthused by Umar Sadiq. Morelos is one more booking away from an inevitable two-match domestic suspension so we have to have an alternative ready, willing and able for when this kicks in. In support of the main striker, a jaded looking Ryan Kent has succumbed to a hamstring strain so it was good to see youngster Glenn Middleton start and score in his first European game on Thursday. However, to become a first choice, he has to certainly work on his positioning and concentrate at key moments. On the opposite wing, Daniel Candeias has been his usual reliable self but because of a laughable red card will be missing on Sunday. This should mean another start for winger Eros Grezda who has struggled to find full fitness after a pre-season injury at Osijek. The Albanian should prove to be a pivotal creative player through the rest of this season so fingers crossed he can enjoy a full Ibrox Stadium this weekend. As for the opposition, they've won their last two SPFL games so will visit Glasgow in good spirits. We can expect further physical, direct play but the pace and creative play of guys like Chris Cadden and Allan Campbell cannot be ignored. As always Curtis Main will be their attacking focal point alongside Ryan Bowman who I'm sure will get a warm welcome from the home crowd. Their main threat may well be at set-pieces and after scoring three times against us at Fir Park, they'll want to do the same this weekend. Ironically in that match (for some of the opening period anyway) Rangers deployed a back three so the manager may consider that again this week - especially if Kyle Lafferty is available. In closing, after this game Rangers will have two weeks off but Sunday's match and the next two (v Livingston and Villarreal - all at home) are vital ahead of an increasingly difficult and hectic schedule in December. Win all three and our season is poised perfectly ahead of nine (yes, nine!) games next month so that's the challenge the players and manager must set themselves. Despite our inconsistency they are capable and they'll have three sell-out crowds cheering them on while the rest of 2018 will certainly tell us a lot about the squad quality and depth we have. Keep believing seems ever more apt! Possible team (4-3-3): McGregor Tavernier | Goldson | Katic | Halliday Jack | Arfield | Rossiter Grezda | Morelos | Middleton
  11. [Preview to follow] Barisic, Kent and Lafferty all out injured: Kent out for at least the next two weeks with a hamstring problem.
  12. I have not got time to re-read this so excuse any mistakes. I am getting the sour gape from the wife.
  13. One of the earliest games I remember between St Mirren and Rangers was the 1962 Scottish Cup Final. The semi-finals had Rangers beating Motherwell 3-1 at Hampden, at the same time as the Grand National. Meanwhile at Ibrox St Mirren were 3-0 up against Celtic when their fans invaded the field. Eventually order was restored and the game ended 3-1 St Mirren. The final was a fairly straightforward 2-0 win for the Gers with Brand and Wilson scoring. Our team that day was: Ritchie, Shearer, Caldow, Davis, McKinnon, Baxter, Henderson, McMillan, Millar, Brand and Wilson -- What a team! George McLean stood out for St Mirren that day and we duly signed him. He was obviously a talented player but did not live up to his promise. He and Jim Forrest never played for Rangers again after the Berwick Rangers defeat. Anyway, onwards and upwards. St Mirren will obviously play a defensive set-up against us on Saturday so hopefully we provide some attacking threat. St Mirren have a new Manager in charge, Oran Kearney, who was appointed in September after the sacking of Alan Stubbs. The former PE teacher had a successful spell at Coleraine winning the Irish Cup for the first time in 15 years and, just before leaving, brought about a 3-0 win against reigning champions Crusaders. Kearney brought swagger and ambition, declaring on his appointment, "I want to win the league because the day I started [at Coleraine] I wanted titles and trophies." Clearly, St Mirren are nowhere near that level, and their start has been bumpy to say the least. St Mirren have lost 6 of their last 7 matches, although they did manage a 0-0 draw against Celtic in Kerney's first game in charge -- perhaps a warning if Rangers don't approach this game with the right frame of mind. Hopefully Tavernier recovers his form after an indifferent spell. I expect the team to be along the same lines as Wednesday, although with McGregor coming back between the posts. Possible XI: McGregor Tavernier - Goldson - Worral - Flanagan Halliday - Coulibaly Candeias - Arfield - Kent Morelos
  14. In one week we went through a whole catalogue of emotions. Love, hate, desperation, frustration, anger and sadness. The only one that we seemed to miss out on is happiness. On Sunday the level of expectation was so high against a poor Aberdeen team that most of us never even contemplated a defeat. Well actually we all knew where our weak point is. We knew how Aberdeen would play. It is in fact the way virtually all the Scottish teams with the exception of Celtic, Hearts and possibly Kilmarnock our opponents on Wednesday have played against us. Kilmarnock and Hearts both paid the price both falling to a 3-1 defeat. Recently Livingston snatched victory from us by parking the bus and waiting for that one chance coming from a set play moment. I actually believe it has become a tactic to defend in numbers punt the ball up to the loan forward to do his best to get free kicks around our penalty area. Back in the day an Aberdeen team would have come out and made a game of it but it seems they have dropped down to the role of a diddy team with diddy team tactics. I must admit though it is all about the end result and Aberdeen are in the final and we are left licking our wounds. We can't complain though it is also a tactic Rangers have used in the past and I remember Barcelona filling the papers with the same complaint that we parked the bus and played negative football in a European game. Daniel Cousin played the loan striker role that day and could have snatched victory in the end for us missing a chance in the dying minutes. So now it is time to use that old, no antique, cliché that football managers use. “We will now have to get up, brush ourselves down and go again.” As I mentioned Kilmarnock tried to play football at Rugby park and we beat them 3-1. Steve Clark was sitting in the stand watching the game and will also be well aware of what has been our achilles heel over the last few months. Not being able to break down packed defences. Rangers will play to dominate so Clark has a decision to make in parking the bus hoping for a breakaway goal or try to come out and play football. For Killie there is a danger in parking the bus as it is not their normal game so they will have to adopt to a whole different style as they are used to. Do they have the disciplined defenders to do it? Well we all know Kirk Broadfoot is willing to use all devious methods to stop anyone. One thing about them over the last few weeks is that they have been giving away the first goal. If they park the bus and lose a goal then they would need to completely change their whole game plan. I don't believe Killie will come and park the bus. Yes they will try and keep it tight at the back as every team should do but it is not their style and I think it would be suicide for them to try it. They also have good players in Jordon Jones Greg Stewart and you can never give Kris Boyd get a yard in the box. Kris may talk a better game than he can play these days but I suppose that is open to argument from both sides. Well we all know Rangers won't be the same team as Thursday night. The hugely obvious change will be the return of Alfredo Morelos. We saw TV pictures of him in the stand with his grumpy face on and I really hope he was thinking that a part of that defeat against Aberdeen lay in his hands for getting a stupid yellow card. We really did miss him on Sunday. Not only is he our highest scorer but his link up play is also a huge part of everything that is good in this Rangers team. Apart from that the team will not be much different. McGregor will play in goals, with a back line of Tavernier. Goldsen Worrel and Flanagan. Flanagan for me is a slightly better defender than Hodson was but offers totally nothing going forward and is part of our problem on playing sideways to Goldson or Worrel. I doubt Wallace will ever return so we really need another good full-back who can play forward in my eyes. I would play Halliday in place of Flanagan. Rangers were at their best when Coulibaly and Jack played together in a 4-2-3-1 set-up so hopefully our manager will go off the 4-3-3 and move back to our best tactical positions. I would like to see Ejaria, Arfield and Kent in the midfield with Morelos leading the line. I love Candeias but he is so predictable and his final ball is poor. My team is: McGregor Tavenier Goldson Worrel Halliday Coulibaly Jack Ejaria Arfield Kent Morelos
  15. After what was a fairly frustrating European night at Ibrox during the week, the big games keep on coming for Rangers. The clocks might only be going back later tonight as we approach Halloween but already we've played 22 games this season. And, so far at least, progress has been pretty good. Sure, league defeats away to Celtic and Livingston may have blotted Steven Gerrard's copy book and our form generally has actually been quite inconsistent as opposed to exceptional but you'd be hard pressed to find a truly unhappy Rangers fan considering where we were this time last season after the sacking of Pedro Caixinha exactly a year ago. With a plethora of new players brought in by Gerrard and an almost entirely new backroom staff as well, the turnaround in quality has been notable, if not (understandably) wholly reliable yet. Indeed, it was interesting to catalogue the palpable disappointment after Thursday's draw against Spartak Moscow. Rangers fans' expectations are always high so hell mend any player or manager who doesn't appreciate that - even if the bigger picture is often ignored by some critics. Strangely enough though, we're still only 5th in the Ladbrokes Premiership and although we sit top of our Europa League section, without genuine demonstrable success and a real challenge to Celtic it's difficult to consider any progress made so far as anything other than circumstantial. To that end the only way to change the status quo is to keep winning and to bring silverware back to Ibrox. Winning the Europa League is improbable but lifting the Scottish League Cup is achievable and we can take another step towards that by beating Aberdeen at Hampden tomorrow afternoon. Aberdeen, for all their own faults, will present their usual stiff challenge. Yes, their fans may not have bought into Sunday's game (literally it seems going by their embarrassing ticket sales) but you can be sure their players will. They might be five points behind us in the league but, just like Hamilton last weekend, they will raise their game and if we show the same kind of complacency and poor form we did in Lanarkshire then passage into the Betfred Cup final will be far from certain. Interestingly, it may be in attack that both sides could have trouble tomorrow. Rangers have scored plenty in their 22 games this season but will have no recognised striker tomorrow. Meanwhile Aberdeen have only scored 16 goals in their 13 games so we'll be hoping they struggle up front once more. In terms of the Rangers team, replacing the impressive form of Alfredo Morelos will be our most difficult task at Hampden. The Columbian has scored just four goals less than the whole Aberdeen team this season so far but his creative play and leading of the line may arguably be missed more. With usual deputy Kyle Lafferty ineligible and our only other striker Umar Sadiq unreliable, it's very difficult suggest an alternative. Glenn Middleton can score goals so may be the most favoured candidate but can he live with the physical nature of the Aberdeen back line? Or does Gerrard move in-form Ryan Kent further forward given Eros Grezda still looks less than match-sharp? Might Ovie Ejaria be the best option to take the ball in and link with others and what of the usual 4-3-3 system? I don't think we'll know the answer to that conundrum until around 3.30pm tomorrow. Could Gerrard surprise us all? Moving back through the team, there's also the question of matching Aberdeen's physical strength in the middle of the park. Could this mean another 90mins in the rehabilitation of Jordan Rossiter or can Lassana Coulibaly improve his recent poor form? Ryan Jack is surely a certainty to start and he'll be looking to have Graeme Shinnie's head on a pole to annoy his former supporters after the game. We certainly have plenty of options and finding the right midfield blend will not only go a long way to determine tomorrow's outcome but our season as a whole. Scott Arfield returning would be a big creative boost as well. At the back, the manager has said he's still to decide on his goalkeeper and as much as Allan McGregor has been top-class this season, Wes Foderingham has been very good when called upon (especially in our away win at Rugby Park) so we're lucky with our quality there. James Tavernier will surely captain the side again from right back and I'd expect the same back four that started against Spartak given the creative threat of Aberdeen from wider areas and set-pieces. Nevertheless, all things being equal, Rangers fans will be expecting a win tomorrow and despite the loss of Morelos, we have every right to be confident. A score-draw despite wrongly losing the same player to a red card and the loss of a late, late equaliser in our first league game of the season showed we have more quality than Aberdeen. However, Gerrard's 'class above' comments after that game will be used by Derek McInnes to fire up his players so anyone expecting anything other than a hard-fought, physical tight game would be well advised to rethink their analysis. Ultimately, although the Rangers manager did qualify his comments to that one game, it will come down to Gerrard to prove his earlier claims are correct. Win through and all remains rosy in the Rangers garden. Anything else and the pressure will increase. Fortunately, Gerrard demands success and understands Rangers fans are impatient for it. Occasionally our expectations are unrealistic but a win tomorrow is not. We must step up and show our desire for success is authentic. Let's go indeed. Possible starting XI (4-3-3): Foderingham Tavernier | Goldson | Worrall | Flanagan Coulibaly | Jack | Arfield Candeias | Ejaria | Kent
  16. The fixture pile up that participation in Europe has brought is something that bluenoses have relished this season, and whilst the arrival of another international break was not welcomed by the fans there’s little doubt that is was by Gerrard. The international breaks have split the season up very helpfully for Gerrard. A hectic early season schedule brought 13 games before the September break. Our introduction to Gerrard in these games saw an assured Rangers side navigate their way to the European group stages comfortably and start well domestically before running out of steam with points dropped at Fir Park and the first Old Firm derby of the season ending in defeat. The September break could not have come soon enough. As expected and hoped, Rangers emerged from the international break looking rejuvenated. The next group of seven games were crucial and almost went exactly to plan. On the European front, Gerrard’s side stretched their unbeaten run to 10 and re-asserted themselves as serious players on the continent with a draw away at Villarreal and an impressive home win over Rapid Vienna. The five domestic games, however, painted a mixed picture. Four exhilarating home wins averaging four goals scored per game were in risk of being overshadowed by another worrying performance away from home, this time to dark horses Livingston. Incredibly, after a positive opening few months to the season we find ourselves in 6th position in the league, behind the worst Celtic side in decades and amazingly still 7th in the goals conceded table! The Opposition Hamilton away presents Gerrard with the perfect opportunity to smash the unwanted record of having not won away from home in the league and start fresh. After all, the last time a Rangers side left Hamilton empty handed World War 2 was brewing and Bill Struth was the manager. The Accies started the season losing to Annan Athletic and needed penalties to beat Airdrieonians. More recently, they lost at home to fellow strugglers Dundee and St Johnstone before being annihilated in their last outing by in-form Hibs. They have lost 6 out of 8 in the league. It is a strange game to bill as a must-win but to drop points on the road again against a struggling Hamilton side would certainly put pressure on Gerrard. Danger Man Despite how poorly the Access have started, there is little question who Gerrard will be singling out as a threat. Responsible for 55% of Hamilton’s goals this season, 22 year old forward Mickel Miller will be watched very closely by Goldson and co. Miller is fast and isn’t afraid to shoot from distance on his left foot . Rangers News The international break hasn’t been too kind on us this time round. Arfield returns with a hamstring injury which is still to be assessed, and Lafferty will not feature at Hamilton after the IFA invoked the 5 day rule after he pulled out of Northern Ireland Nation League double header due to an apparent Achilles injury. Borna Barisic withdrew from the Croatia squad due to a muscle rupture and Nikola Katic withdrew from the U21 squad due to injury. Predicted Line-Up As Katic, Barisic and Lafferty didn’t start the last couple of games their likely absence will only affect the depth of the squad at Hamilton. Arfield’s injury on the other hand paves the way for the returning Jack. Due to the likely absences, the team seems to pick itself. Worrall will take full advantage of Katic’s recovery time and continue to form a partnership with Goldson at centre back with Tavernier and Flanagan at full back. Jack will join Coulibaly and Ejaria in centre midfield with Kent and Candeias retaining their spots on the wings. Morelos will miss next week’s semi final against Aberdeen and with Lafferty ineligible and he won’t be looking over his shoulder for big Sadiq on this occasion who will be lucky to make the bench. What to Look out For Halliday continues to be popular with the gaffer and Dorrans and Rossiter haven’t even made the bench in the last three games. With Arfield potentially rested, will either finally join Halliday on the bench? Next week’s semi final will be a huge game for the Gers, but we go into it without a recognised striker. Given Rangers have scored at least 4 on our last three trips to Hamilton, will Gerrard be planning to take Morelos off to trial a striker-less system if we manage to get a cushion? Grezda got precious game time with Albanian over the international period with 45 minutes in a friendly before playing the full 90 against Israel. The fans are desperate to see how good he is and will be hoping to see him at his best as soon as possible and this is exactly the kind of game we’d like to see him get an extended time on the pitch, especially if he’s in Gerrard’s plans for the final. Sunday is the perfect chance for Gerrard to put our unwelcome away record behind us and start this next section of the season as we mean to go on, as Championship contenders with a comprehensive away win. The Spartak and Aberdeen coming up, this is a crucial stretch of games and if there’s anything we learnt in October it’s that we can’t take any away domestic game for granted.
  17. Steven Gerrard says he wants Ibrox to be "rocking" when Rangers host Scottish Premiership leaders Hearts on Sunday. The Gers stormed to a 3-1 home win against Rapid Vienna in the Europa League on Thursday, and are hoping to reduce their eight-point deficit on Hearts this weekend. Gerrard is hoping that the Ibrox fans can replicate the European atmosphere for their league encounter, saying: "We'd love Ibrox to be bouncing and rocking again. I'm sure the supporters are going to be going to Ibrox in good spirits after last night. "But we also have to play our part. We can't start slow and wait for the crowd to lift us. Last night the players fed off the atmosphere and it really took them to a really high level. But the players' quality, their tempo and intensity made the fans even more vocal. "It worked perfectly yesterday and as a manager I'd love to see that again on Sunday. Ibrox was rocking, it was shaking, it was bouncing. I've experienced that many, many times at Anfield. The support was almost like a 12th man and it felt like that last night." "We're in good form and I feel we are ready and capable of going through to Glasgow and getting points," he said. "I think it'll be a great game and I'm hopeful we can do enough to come out on top. "We've faced a number of tests so far this season, however, and we've managed to deal with every one we've been presented with. So I'm hopeful that we can do the same again on Sunday. " Team news Ryan Jack is expected to rejoin Steven Gerrard's squad on Sunday. The midfielder has not featured since straining a calf while on Scotland duty last month. Long-term knee injury victim Jamie Murphy remains out while Lee Wallace faces another week or so on the sidelines with a groin injury. Uche Ikpeazu is an injury doubt for Hearts after missing the last few games, and it is touch and go as to his inclusion this weekend. Opta stats Rangers are unbeaten in each of their last five Scottish Premiership matches against Hearts (W4 D1), winning their last three - the last time they went on a longer winning run against Hearts in the competition came between December 2001 and December 2003 (run of nine consecutive victories). Hearts have won just one of their last 22 top-flight visits to Ibrox (D5 L16), a 2-1 victory in March 2012. Hearts manager Craig Levein believes his side can get a result at Ibrox Rangers have won six consecutive home league matches, scoring 18 times whilst conceding only two goals. They haven't won seven on the bounce in the top-flight at Ibrox since April 2010, when the seventh match in that streak was a 2-0 win over Hearts. This is Hearts' best start to a season in the Scottish Premiership (19 points from their opening seven games) since 2005-06, when they won each of their first seven matches. Former Hearts forward and current Rangers player Kyle Lafferty has scored five goals in six Scottish Premiership starts against Hearts at Ibrox for the Gers https://www.skysports.com/football/rangers-vs-hearts/preview/391184
  18. [Full Preview to follow] KO 8pm RFC injury news: Wallace OUT for another few weeks due to groin strain Ryan Jack likely to be IN the squad though Possible team: McGregor Tavernier | Goldson | Katic | Barisic Coulibaly | Ejaria Grezda | Arfield | Kent Morelos Subs: Foderingham Flanagan Jack Dorrans Middleton Candeias Lafferty
  19. Preview by 26th of foot in third post below! I suppose they may as well have a go since though it might get them a real hiding no one expects anything else anyway. Back in February this year we beat them 6-1 on their own ground and it's hard to see this going any other way but something similar to that. We have home advantage this time, we're playing well at home this time and have a far more formidable team this time. https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/45616120
  20. It's Friday morning and I have to admit I'm still basking in the glow of last night's excellent draw in Spain. OK, it might not have been our best ever European performance and we didn't even win the match but the positives are there for all to see. First and foremost, there's character. Some discredited journalists may think our manager is 'quietly terrified' of the Rangers job but I see a man (along with his coaching colleagues) with a huge amount of self-belief and all of whom seem to relish the task. That clearly rubs off on our players who despite two setbacks yesterday kept plugging away to get an unlikely result. Next there's quality. Sure, it's not the best ever Rangers squad and sloppy mistakes are made but even in mid September, the improvement in the team is obvious. We have more depth in the squad, can live with the physical battle and some of our attacking play is a joy to behold when we click. Finally, there's teamwork. The most successful clubs aren't just about one or two individuals but are the sum of all parts. We undoubtedly have a few key players but it's because we're now functioning as a team that we're looking less vulnerable and more dangerous. That's the kind of solid foundation we will need to bring back trophies to Ibrox. Of course we're still far from the finished article and, given our results so far this season, that's paradoxically perhaps a positive. I don't think I've really seen us fully click for 90mins yet and I'm still not sure Gerrard has managed to play his favoured XI or system either. When that happens, we might, just might be capable of challenging properly for the SPFL title. Until then, and with such a busy schedule, we need to keep asking every player to contribute when called upon. The manager was right to point out last night the performance of his subs - all three of whom did the business when they came on. And with another tough match against St Johnstone on Sunday, more fringe players will have the chance to impress this weekend. Given the hot and humid conditions in Villarreal and the effort put in to secure a point, changes to the team are inevitable. I'd expect at least three changes and perhaps as much as five. Joe Worrell had a fine debut but may have to be content with a place on the bench again to allow Katic back into the team. Meanwhile, Borna Barisic went off with what seemed to be a thigh problem so Lee Wallace may well get the chance to start his first game since he went off injured over a year ago at Firhill. I would expect James Tavernier to keep his place at right back - not because Jon Flanagan isn't an able deputy - but because I suspect Eros Grezda may start his first Rangers game on the right flank. As such the influence of Tav behind him may be a good idea. With such an impressive 20mins in Spain, Glenn Middleton may also get the nod ahead of Ryan Kent on the opposite wing. Alfredo Morelos should be a certain starter in attack as he returns from a European suspension. More tricky to predict is the central, deeper players. We're lucky to have several options in there but with injuries to Jack, Ejaria and Rossiter, we're having to rely on players like Arfield, Coulibaly and Halliday. I don't expect that three to play for the third game in a row so Ross McCrorie may add a much needed freshness if Jack or Ejaria don't make it. The return of Graham Dorrans to hopefully full fitness this time will be another great option but he may remain a sub for the time being. All in all, our excellent work in the summer transfer window means we can afford to rotate our squad given the schedule demands of the coming weeks. The big test will be doing that carefully enough as not to disturb momentum and keep delivering results. A draw on Thursday was well received but only three wins domestically over the next week will satisfy Rangers fans before Rapid Vienna visit Ibrox in a fortnight's time. It's a difficult challenge but, so far at least, we appear well up for it. Let's keep riding that wave...! Possible team (4-2-3-1)
  21. While Playing two games a week puts a strain on the players it is absolutely great for the supporters only having to wait three or four days for the chance to watch the famous. The games will be coming quick and fast up until Christmas due to the teams fantastic performances in the Europa league. After climbing the mountains of the qualifying stages as one of the few teams to go through to the group stages from the first qualifying round we now start the first round of the group stages against the Spanish Euro league giants Villareal. While we are not yet back where we want to be as that is in the Champions League the distance we have travelled to get this far is outstanding. Even just thinking about it, only a few years ago we were talking about playing Peterhead and Berwick Rangers and now we are playing Villareal in a Europa league group stage. How good does that sound? Villareal, Rapid Wien and Spartak Moscow and the famous Glasgow Rangers. Get in there! So what do we know about Villareal? They have qualified from the group stages and scored more group stage goals in the Europa league than any other team.They have had a bad start to the season but won on Sunday against Leganes. It was valuable points for Villareal but as Leganes missed a penalty then their win was somewhat fortuitous. They set up in a 4-4-2\4-1-3-2 with attacking full backs and that line-up leaves room for hitting them on the break. The midfield battle will be oh so important. With Steven Gerrard setting his Rangers teams up in a 4-2-3-1 then the Gers will be placed to soak up pressure and hit Villareal on the break. I believe Rangers will start with the 4-3-2-1 setup which with the injuries and bans we have, actually makes it easy to pick the team. We know that Ryan Jack, Ovie Ejaria are injured so that will leave the choice of Andy Halliday and Ross McCrorie for that second defensive midfield role. It has been clear over the last few weeks that Gerrard prefers the experienced Halliday over the teenage McCrorie so it is pretty certain our two holding midfielders will be Lassana Coulibaly and Andy Halliday. I doubt the boss will pick this game to make any changes in defence so with Jon Flanagan suspended, Gareth McAuley injured and Joe Worrall an untried commodity we will start with the tried and trusted defence of Tavernier Goldson Katic and thankfully Borna Barisic. Barisic is now available after being cup-tied for the qualifying rounds after having played for Osijek which included a game against the bears. Alan McGregor since returning to the club has been a rock in the goal. Maybe rock is the wrong word because a rock is a pretty static object and Alan McGregor is anything but static. McGregor pulls of reactionary saves that sometimes are beyond belief. McGregor gives the defence a lot of confidence as they know they can trust him if they play back to him and even if they make a mistake McGregor has the ability to pull them out the fire. Confidence in your keeper makes a huge difference to the confidence of defenders. Gerrard Has already said that Kyle lafferty will lead the line as Alfredo Morelos is suspended for the game due to his red card against UFA. One thing is certain tonight, the players have to have the discipline to keep eleven players on the field. We are now in with the big boys and won't get away with playing with men short. That only leaves an attacking midfield three. Eros Grezda was introduced against Dundee on Saturday but after missing most of the season until now through injury he is far from being match fit for a game as big as villareal and I doubt he will even show. Ovie Ejaria is injured so unless Gerrard throws a curve ball the midfield three will be Daniel Candeias, Scott Arfield and Ryan Kent. The work rate of Kent and Candeias in attacking and defending is second to none. Kent and Barisic on the left is still a work in progress but the partnership of Candeias and Tavernier has become a pretty well oiled machine. Glenn Middleton will show at sometime but I doubt we will be starting with the 18 year old. This is a great opportunity to see just how far we have really come. I think the team will be: McGregor Tavernier Goldson Katic Barisic Halliday Coulibaly Candeias Arfield Kent Lafferty So only one more thing to say. C'Mon the Gers get in tae them!!!
  22. Introduction After a whirlwind set of opening fixtures which began on the 12th of July against little known Shkupi and ended in disappointment against somewhat more familiar opposition on the 2nd of September, Gerrard and his team have finally had a chance to take a breather, regroup and prepare for this next set of crucial fixtures ahead of the October international break. This group of fixtures will include a much-coveted return to the glamour of Europe with Ibrox set to welcome visitors from Spain and Austria in the shape of Villarreal and Rapid Vienna. However, before then we host more humble opposition managed by a former Gers star with an attack spearheaded by a former Gers star. The Opposition Neil McCann brings his side to Ibrox under immense pressure and with a point to prove. The Dees have endured a horrendous run of five straight losses - including a humbling on their own patch in the cup at the hands of Championship side Ayr United – which sees them languishing at the bottom of the table without a point. A series of listless performances has caused many of their fans to question the instability brought about by the high turnover of players at the club which has seen last season’s mainstays Bain, Hendry, Caulker, Holt, O’Hara, Allan, El Bakhtaoui and Murray all depart the club. Free transfer arrivals from the likes of Woking and Kidderminster Harriers rather than re-investing the Hendry fee signals a club in decline. Having said that, a wounded animal can be a dangerous one and there is some quality in McCann’s side. A certain Kenny Miller seems to age like a fine malt whisky and will be ready to pounce in the box given half a chance. On-loan youngster Kallman is another one to watch after breaking his duck in the 3-1 defeat to Motherwell. Calvin Miller, on loan from Celtic, provides a threat from left back with the ability to get forward and get crosses into the box. However, the most interesting thing to see when the line-ups are announced will be whether Glen Kamara passes a late fitness test. Kamara was linked to Rangers over the summer and some in the summer transfer rumours thread were keen to see him signed. If he returns, there is no doubt he will make Dundee more competitive in the middle of the park. Rangers A passive performance against Celtic gave much cause for concern and raised a number of questions. Some sections of the media were quick to use phrases like “reality check” and many of our own fans were not sure themselves if that is what it was or how great a role the many mitigating factors were playing. What is sure is that the fans are desperate to see a well-rested, well drilled and rejuvenated team put on a show on Saturday and show that it’s back to business as usual. Morale has improved over the international break with Barisic playing the full game against Portugal and Morelos grabbing what we will graciously call an assist in his Colombia debut, followed by high praise from his idol Radamel Falcao. The sight of quartet Coulibaly, Grezda, Dorrans and Rossiter in training was a further boost but the fans will be anxious to see whether Coulibaly in particular returns to the starting line-up. The clash with bottom of the table Dundee at home is the first fixture of its kind since St Mirren, a home game in which we are expected to go all-out attack and win comfortably. Gerrard will want to see a return to the high pressing, high intensity aggressive display which so impressed the fans against Maribor and in the opening half hour against St Mirren and hopefully that’s what we’ll get. Line-up The signing of the highly rated Worrall on loan from Nottingham Forest followed by the capture of Northern Ireland international Gareth McAuley has given many reason to believe that Gerrard plans to utilise 3-5-2 on a more regular basis going forward. Wingers Candeias, Kent and Grezda would be the losers in this formation with Lafferty and Worrall being the primary benefactors. However I’m going to predict a familiar looking 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 with Lafferty paving the way for Candeias and Coulibaly making a return in the place of Ovie Ejaria.
  23. We've seen and heard a lot since Steven Gerrard became the Rangers manager pretty much exactly three months ago. As much as the sheer profile of Gerrard the player excited even the most negative of Rangers fans, there were understandable doubts and scepticism. This was a untried manager with only 18 months as a youth coach on his CV. Sure, Gerrard had incredible success as a player but there were (still are?) no guarantees about his managerial prospects. Rangers, running off the back of financial and legal issues for the best part of ten years, and challenging the modern 'invincibles' of Celtic - seven league titles in a row, including an unbeaten sixth title and a double treble - was surely no place for a young manager making his way in the game to learn his trade. After all, this challenge almost broke Graeme Murty, another young man with only a background in youth coaching. Yes, their playing careers were very different but the risk for the Rangers board and their Director of Football Mark Allen, was surely needless? Many neutrals said as much and, if we're honest, really honest with ourselves, we all had the same concerns. Very quickly though, this just seemed different. Gerrard's unveiling in May was the first chance we got to hear the man explain his reasons for taking the job and right away the Rangers supporters took confidence from the way he dealt with the media. This wasn't a man to shirk a challenge. This was an icon, a British footballing legend, who understood the scale of the job and appreciated how difficult it was going to be. 'Let's Go' was an unplanned soundbite but it fit the background well, kept things very simple and inspired fans. Since then progress has been swift. Dozens of transfers in and out of the club. Training camps in Spain with double and triple sessions to improve fitness, tactical awareness and build relationships. Twelve competitive games (nine in August alone) - six wins, six draws and, impressively, zero defeats. In fact, take away some questionable refereeing at home and abroad (and some questionable discipline from one or two players) then that record could and should have been better. Indeed, only two injury time goals away at Aberdeen and Motherwell have stopped Rangers from having the perfect league record to compliment their qualification for the Europa League Group Stage. It's literally been a case of blink and you'll miss it when watching Rangers so far this season. At the time of writing on Friday evening, Gerrard has signed 14 players and moved on 16 first team players. The turnover has been astonishing and, so far, the results impressive with a new defence the pick of the new manager's work. Rangers supporters are delighted and despite some understandable imperfections as Gerrard builds a new squad and system, confidence is building like no other period in the last six or seven years. However, with a two week international break on the immediate horizon, I think fans are looking to take a breath. And the players, especially our central defenders and main striker, certainly deserve the rest. Last weekend at Fir Park, the second half in a quite incredible game took a lot out the team and having to play 30mins with nine men nine hours away in Ufa on Thursday is again asking an immense amount out of this new squad. Yet, we have one more hurdle still to face. One more jump to make. Another tough test to pass - the toughest yet. On Sunday, the team will make the short journey across the Clyde to Parkhead to face our greatest rivals in what is still one of football's greatest games. However, the atmosphere will be markedly different from recent years. First of all, relations between the clubs are as bad as they've ever been so there will be very few bears present - only 800 in fact, most in restricted viewing positions well out of sight of the Sky TV cameras. Secondly, Celtic seem to be suffering themselves with dressing room problems: key players falling out with managers and one goal-scoring talisman being sold. The dynamic seems to be one of promises not being fulfilled, broken trust, suspicious fans and banner protests. Finally, and most importantly, we have a team that can compete. Not just physically but, as we've seen several times this season already, mentally too. Self-belief is a vital component of any successful team - Celtic show that continually against us whilst we've faltered time and time again since our return to the top flight. Make no mistake, our form has shown we can get a result on Sunday. Even so, one of our bigger failings in our various Old Firm humblings of the last two years has been our predictability. A blind man could usually pick our team, guess our system and know where to hurt us. We only needed to concede a goal to fall apart and rarely looked like scoring ourselves. For the most part, we were beaten before the whistle was even blown. This weekend that need not be the case. Sure, Gerrard has preferred a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 most often this season but last week deployed a 3-5-2 that, despite three defensive mistakes not immediately linked to the formation, worked not too badly (in the first half at least). It (or perhaps a 3-4-3) will be used again during this campaign with the loan capture of Joe Worrall from Nottingham Forest increasing our defensive options as well. Moreover, Gerrard hasn't been afraid to rotate his team - in particular his midfield five - so there's no obvious starting XI for Sunday (though I do try to predict this below)! The biggest issue for the Rangers manager will be that of the schedule discussed above. Despite obvious improvements in fitness, players will be tired (at least later in the game) and player indiscipline/officials incompetence won't have helped on Thursday evening. A nine hour overnight flight, just two full days of recovery and only light training drills isn't ideal preparation for any game, never mind away to Celtic, but they played on Thursday too and may not have their usual spring in their step - even if they could afford the luxury of resting key players. Fortunately, we can make changes too. Depending on the system used we can bring in a few players and, ironically, Morelos' daft red card afforded him an extra hour's rest on Thursday. Although I wouldn't rule out a back three, I do expect us to play a four on Sunday as it would be a big risk to bring in Worrall for his debut. McGregor will of course start in goal and Borna Barisic likely the only change to our usual defensive line up. Worrall, Jon Flanagan and erstwhile captain Lee Wallace do offer other options though. In midfield, Lassana Coulibaly has returned to training but may have to settle for a place on the bench though his return might well have been kept as a nice surprise for this game. The likes of Jack, Ejaria, Arfield and Halliday have done lots of good work of late and a combination of those four will surely start. Ross McCrorie may be a wild card should the manager wish for fresh legs and mobility in the engine room. That leaves us three players in attacking roles. Daniel Candeias has never really got going this season but might be preferred to aid James Tavernier on the right side and press high centrally. Ryan Kent has done well on the other flank but with Morelos apparently forgiven for his Ufa immaturity and likely to start, I do wonder if Kyle Lafferty will play on the left. Albanian winger Eros Grezda will hopefully turn out to be a big player for Rangers this season but I don't think we'll see him until after the international break. Glenn Middleton is another option and I do wonder if his pace and direct play could add some doubt to any Celtic defenders? Ultimately, this game will arguably come too early for a few players so I think the manager will opt for familiarity at the expense of freshness. In that respect, we're asking a lot of the potential line-up below but the belief obtained from Thursday's draw and the adrenaline from an Old Firm clash should at least see us through the bulk of the game. After that we're reliant on making the right subs at the right time to deliver the kind of positive result we've lacked against Celtic of late. Another top class defensive display will be needed and our attackers, particularly Alfredo Morelos, must make the most of any chances that come their way. In conclusion, coming away from the East End of Glasgow unbeaten on Sunday would cap off a fantastic first three months in charge for Steven Gerrard. However, god forbid if his team were to return to Ibrox empty-handed, it wouldn't be the end of the world either - not when the full context is applied - so in essence we have nothing to lose with the vast majority of another long season still to be played out. No matter the outcome, the league won't be won nor lost in early September but we do have a chance to lay down an early marker and show we are indeed the real deal. For the first time in a fairly long time ahead of going to Parkhead, I cannot wait... Possible team (4-3-3):
  24. UFA v Rangers One of the biggest talking points of the last while is whether the Russians fixed the American elections or not. Did Putin play his Trump card you could ask? Well if they can put that kind of influence into the American presidential election then getting to a Polish referee would not be too big a problem for them. Now I am not going to say the Polish referee had been paid by the Russians but his leniency to UFA's constant fouling and his blindness at two stonewall penalties definitely casts a shadow of doubt at his standard of refereeing. Lets hope his poor refereeing has no negative influence in the outcome of the tie. Tomorrow we play the return leg in the far outback of Ufa in Russia. We will have to tend with the time difference of four hours so the game will be played at 3pm GMT so most people will have to take a few hours off work if they want to watch it. We take a 1-0 lead with us after the first leg at Ibrox which means if we can get a goal the Russians will need to score three to advance to the next stage. Judging on their performance at Ibrox then it would seem unlikely they can do that. Complacency is of course the kiss of death as we found out last season in Luxembourg. It certainly made us play well below our capabilities against Progres Niederkorn. Stevie Gerrard will have to get that drilled into the team. Our second-half performance against Motherwell on Sunday was certainly not a performance that would breed complacency right enough. It was a very flat performance to say the very least. We have not seen anything as poor as that from this Steven Gerrard team until now so lets hope it was just a little blip. One of the positives from the Motherwell game was the instant Man of the Match display by big Kyle Lafferty. He certainly looks a completely different player to the one that walked away in 2012. When we were actually playing football in the first half he was a huge thorn in the Motherwell defence. He did make his return debut in the first leg where he was on for about a minute before receiving a yellow card. If the referee was so quick to produce a yellow to the UFA players then we may have got a game without the constant fouling. What can we expect from this UFA team? I really don't think they will start much different than they did at Ibrox. I think they will try and keep it tight and try and get the goal on the break to level the tie . I think trying not to lose a goal will play more on their minds than opening up and playing more attacking. I think they will hope we walk on to their sword so to speak. I do think Rangers will come out and try to dominate the game. We all saw on Sunday that sitting defending our own eighteen yard box is not our strong point and we have shown that on a few occasions this season. The big question is how will steven Gerrard set up the team. Will he go for the 3-5-2 that we played on Sunday or will he revert back to his tried and trusted 4-5-1. Personally I think the latter as he will be trying to keep the defence as tight as possible. I think the starting team will be if Coulibaly is not deemed fit enough : McGregor Tavernier Goldson Kadic Flanagan Jack Ejaria Candeias Arfield kent Morelos I certainly hope that with the return of Candeias that Tavernier is more alert in doing his defensive duties as he cost us two goals on Saturday. Big Kyle will appear at some point but that will depend on the score if we need to go for two up top or give Morelos a rest for Saturday I think we will run out 2-1 winners. The referee is: Tobias Stieler (GER) Lets hope the Russians have don't have him running for president. Assistant referees Mike Pickel (GER) Christian Gittelmann (GER) Fourth official Patrick Ittrich (GER)
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