Wallace admits Ibrox men are still seeking ‘swagger’
WHERE do Rangers go from here? If not back to the drawing board, then how about back to the future?
One of many nuggets from a candid, honest assessment of the state of play from their captain Lee Wallace after the 5-1 mauling at Celtic Park was the assertion that the Ibrox club, regardless of their spend on 11 summer signings, still hadn’t hit the heights of last season.
Saturday may have been a better match to miss out on than play in, but there was little that Niko Kranjcar, Joey Barton and Philippe Senderos brought to the party which Jason Holt, Andy Halliday and Danny Wilson weren’t capable of in the Scottish Cup semi-final between these teams five months ago.
As pleasing as that one-off day out at Hampden was for everyone connected to the Ibrox club, there is a growing sense that it may in fact have been less helpful than first thought. Not only did Rangers fail to complete the job in the final, but that day proved the catalyst for the summer outlay at Celtic. It perhaps painted the picture for the Ibrox support that the gap between the two sides was less than it actually is.
“Our fans have a strong belief in what we do,” said Wallace. “They have, of course, shared our frustrations with these opening games. The fact we have not hit our levels yet. There have been spells at Dundee, spells at Kilmarnock. But spells aren’t good enough for us.
“At the end of last season, after the Celtic game, we did tail off,” he added. “We still haven’t got that back yet, which is the real disappointment. But we are working so hard to get there, working so hard to get that swagger back. I saw elements of it last week, albeit in a testimonial [the 7-0 win at Linfield]. It is disappointing we couldn’t take it into this game, a much bigger game.”
Of that, of course, there will be plenty – as no Rangers team can go down 5-1 to their city rivals and not face the repercussions. There will, for instance, be further probing at the running sore which is the Ibrox side’s central defence, and whether it was folly to leave them so exposed in the face of an early onslaught from their hosts which was every bit as ferocious as had been expected.
With the most fluent area of the team being last year’s enviable one-two punch down the left between Lee Wallace and Barrie McKay, the inclusion of Kranjcar was a risk too far. As incredible a technician as the Croat is (watching his goal against Linfield last week for proof) he couldn’t cope with the intensity of this match and was withdrawn at half-time before he did more damage. A 3-1 defeat would have been more palatable than a 5-1 loss, but a combination of the manager’s calls and the dismissal of Senderos left Rangers unable to defend themselves.
For now, though, the only gap between themselves and Celtic which Rangers can worry about is the four points which separate them in the table, not to mention the two by which they now also trail a promising Hearts side under Robbie Neilson.
So where do Rangers go from here? Well, in the short term, directly into a home match against Ross County next Saturday which already belongs in the ‘must-win’ capacity, before three testing away trips to Aberdeen, Hearts and Inverness. These are precisely the kind of matches where any lingering frailties or erosion of belief in what the manager is trying to to achieve would be exposed.
“I believe in the group of players we have and I believe in the manager,” said Wallace. “We are not going to let this disappointment and this type of result change that. We are not kidding ourselves on when we say we still have to get to the levels we got to last year, for instance. But I believe we will get there.
“While I have got that belief, we need to quickly show it. We have just come up, with the gelling of a new group and a turnover of players, so we know these are going to be challenging places.”
One new member of the team who didn’t fluff his lines on the day was Josh Windass, whose galloping runs past Celtic’s midfield screen suggested he could be primed for a big season. Wallace revealed that Kenny Miller had praised his performance in a fairly sombre dressing room afterwards.
“We knew as early as pre-season that he [Windass] could be a real asset to our team and the way we play,” said Wallace. “He can play No.8, 10, 7 or 11 and can provide a real threat for us because he is brave. He is the epitome of everything we want to do. I thought he showed a lot of that today and it is disappointing that he is in the losing team.”
DEBUT BLUES: Rangers’ Philippe Senderos (right) is shown a red card.