Wal­lace ad­mits Ibrox men are still seek­ing ‘swag­ger’

The Herald - Herald Sport - - OLD FIRM SPECIAL - STE­WART FISHER

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.

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