Hodson recalls how Clark got players on a roll
Rangers full-back praises his old Kilmarnock manager’s beach bonding session
CHOLESTEROL levels and high blood pressure are known to be linked but rarely in the manner which Lee Hodson discovered under Lee Clark at Kilmarnock last year.
Having surrendered a typically late goal from Falkirk to trail 1-0 after the Premiership play-off first leg, the Killie boss’s remedy for the all-or-nothing second match at Rugby Park was taking his squad down to Troon beach and buying them all a roll and sausage.
It might not be everyone’s choice of nutritious pre-match meal but it seemed to help the Rugby Park side play with abandon as they duly feasted on their opponents during a 4-0 win.
Mark Warburton, by contrast, is fastidious about what comes out of the Auchenhowie kitchen but he is certainly searching for the right recipe against Kilmarnock today to lighten the mood at an increasingly jumpy Ibrox.
Three home draws already this season have left Rangers playing catch up on Celtic while the Ayrshire side, arriving in town having claimed seven points from the last nine, earned a deserved point in the reverse of this fixture in late August.
“It [the roll and sausage] must have been a very good move – because we stayed up!” said Hodson. “Some managers might have had us out on the pitch, doing shape and tactics, but Lee took us to Troon beach and bought us a sausage sandwich.
“It maybe relaxed a few of the lads and stopped them thinking too much about the game the next day and we ended up staying up.
“Those games were massive pressure. I’d never experienced a relegation fight like that where we were so close to going down. It is part of this job and you need to be able to deal with that pressure. You need to thrive off it. We were 1-0 down from the first leg against Falkirk, but we knew if we played as we could at home we could get the result. We performed on the day and deserved to stay up.”
Few headlines were hogged when Hodson quietly arrived from MK Dons for an undisclosed fee just days after his loan spell at Rugby Park expired this summer.
This, it was widely assumed, was merely a squad player who could provide relief for James Tavernier or Lee Wallace when their exertions proved too much. Instead, against Celtic last Sunday, Mark Warburton found a way to get all three on the park as Hodson played right back and Tavernier one further forward.
If it was a testament to the efficiency of his performance that he kept his place at Tavernier’s expense against St Johnstone in midweek, it may not help his chances of an extended run that he was culpable for the Perth side’s goal on the night.
He took too long to size up the options as he sought to play out from the back, and Blair Alston nipped in to open the scoring.
Hodson accepts that holding down a first-team place won’t be easy, but does hope that he and Tavernier showed enough as they largely blunted Celtic’s fearsome left side of Scott Sinclair and Kieran Tierney to suggest that it could be retained as a tactic for future Old Firm matches.
“I thought I did okay defensively,” said Hodson of his sudden Old Firm debut. “I could have been better on the ball personally, but that’s me nitpicking. I always watch back clips to see what I could do better and improve on.
“Tav is a good full-back who can get forward and defend and has got a great delivery which he has shown already this season. He can show his quality at full-back but if he’s higher up the pitch it could work. I thought we did okay down the right hand side against Celtic and the more we play then you can only get stronger.”
The Old Firm match wasn’t Hodson’s only recent red letter day. The warm-up to the Hampden showdown saw him mix it with world champions Germany in the colours of Northern Ireland earlier this month. He ended the day with Mario Gotze’s shirt after a creditable 2-0 defeat in Hannover, with goals coming from Sami Khedira and Julian Draxler. “Playing at international level always helps you,” said Hodson. “It definitely helped me to go in and play against Celtic. That German team is the best I’ve played against.
“One minute you are up against Gotze who is meant to be playing up top then you’ve got Muller on your side. They don’t have set positions and every 10-15 minutes they change. But it was a great experience for me to play against the best team in the world.”
IN FAVOUR: Lee Hodson has risen to prominence in recent games.