For the second consecutive league match, Rangers ground out a victory without performing to a high standard. Post-match it was the refereeing decisions rather than the tactics or strategies of either side that were the main talking points, as Rangers relied on two contentious penalty decisions to secure victory. Ross Tokely found himself ordered off for one of those decisions, despite winning the ball, although the home side were lucky they were not reduced to nine, possibly eight, men when two of their players already on yellow cards made reckless challenges.
In the absence of Sasa Papac, Lee McCulloch, Steven Whittaker and Kyle Lafferty and after the transfer of Madjid Bougherra to Qatari side Lekhwiya, Ally McCoist brought Kirk Broadfoot, Kyle Bartley and Jamie Ness into the side in a 4-3-3 formation. Juan Manuel Ortiz and Steven Naismith began on either side of Nikica Jelavic in attack but looked to come narrow and link play. Ness sat the deepest of the midfield three and dictated the play in the early stages of the match.
Inverness made one change from the 3-3 draw at East End Park last week, replacing the injured Kenny Gillet with Graeme Shinnie at left-back. They lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Richie Foran leading the line. Perhaps surprisingly, Gregory Tade began the match on the left side of midfield, a position he took up towards the end of the recent match versus Dunfermline, which meant that Jonny Hayes played just off Foran in attack.
The formations meant that Rangers enjoyed a man advantage in the centre of midfield, and with Ortiz and Naismith coming narrow, they enjoyed the vast majority of the possession. The disappointing thing from a Rangers point of view was the unwillingness of their full-backs to take advantage of the space in front of them and provide overlaps, although this may have been wise due to the presence and pace of likes of Hayes and Aaron Doran.
Ness’s range of passing in the early stages of the match was excellent, whether a long diagonal, a slipped ball inside the full-back, or a simple sideways pass, he was at the centre of most of Rangers’ early attacks.
The problem for Rangers throughout the match was their finishing. In fairness, they did have a goal erroneously chopped off with only three minutes played. Had the goal stood, the match may have panned out differently.
Inverness’ strategy was to sit back and hit Rangers on the counter attack. They enjoyed a lively spell in the first five minutes of the match, in which their front four were extremely fluid, but struggled to get the ball into advanced areas for a large part of the half following that.
After twenty minutes, the home side switched Tade with Hayes and began hitting more direct passes towards their now big front two. After this the makeup of their attack was significantly more rigid but it did lead to them creating an excellent chance that Doran should have done better from. They also missed the best chance of the half on the stroke of half time when Foran only just missed the ball at the back post.
Rangers lost Bartley to injury, stretching their already ultra-thin squad and meant that Ross Perry was brought on for his Rangers debut.
After an initial spell where Rangers’ play seemed to become a lot more rushed and direct, the match settled back into almost exactly the same rhythm as the first half: Rangers enjoying much of the possession but lacking any bite in attack.
Inverness had slowly crept more and more into the match but their efforts were dashed when Rangers were awarded a penalty, converted by Jelavic, around the hour mark. Tokely appeared to win the ball although he clumsily entered the challenge two-footed, without doing so in a malicious manner. The decision has already split opinion amongst pundits and on Twitter feeds, and even after watching the incident several times, I am still undecided myself.
The subsequent ordering off of Tokely meant that Tade was replaced by defender Tom Aldred and Hayes again moved just off Foran in attack in a 4-3-1-1 formation.
Within seven minutes Rangers had another penalty - another decision that will split opinion - which was this time saved by Ryan Esson, although Maurice Edu was on hand to slide the rebound into the net.
The match petered out to a close with little to remark upon other than another red card, this time for Edu for a second bookable offence. Inverness could have seen their side reduced further when Piermayr and Tansey were let off for similar challenges whilst also carrying bookings.
The red card saw Rangers take a more defensive approach although they had two fantastic opportunities to increase their lead which were squandered by Steven Davis and Naismith respectively.
Not the most interesting match in terms of tactics or strategies and one that will be remembered for contentious decisions rather than the football. McCoist was honest in his assessment of the match, pointing to the possession that Rangers managed but at the same time admitting their lack of potency.
Whether or not Rangers deserved their penalties, they certainly deserved the victory due to their dominance of possession and chances created. One worry for Rangers will be their poor showing in front of goal – which, granted, may be a one off – but the main worry continues to be the lack of depth and quality in the squad as a whole.
Terry Butcher rightly felt aggrieved in his, at times hilarious, post-match interview and was correct to suggest that his side may well have taken something from the game had they not conceded the first penalty. It is entirely conceivable that Rangers would have continued to frustrate in front of goal from open play, as evidenced by the chances they wasted at 2-0.