Words: Craig Vickers
With domestic action on a week long hiatus, now presents the perfect time to assess the Rangers squad over the first quarter of the campaign. Warburton’s side have yet to drop a single point in the Championship this term, with an impromptu League Cup exit to Tommy Wright’s St. Johnstone side the only blot on the new manager’s copybook.
Below is a quarterly report on each individual player (disclaimer: players who have tasted minimal on-field action, Fraser Aird, for example, do not receive a grade):
Wes Foderingham – B+
Questions have arose over the Englishmen’s consistency between the sticks, but few can fault Foderingham’s stop shotting ability. Time and again, he has came to the rescue of an admittedly porous defence -notably his double save against Morton while Rangers were coasting — and has been equal to several thunderous efforts heading into the top corner. Doubts, however, persist over his capacity to facilitate play from the back and, moreover, he is liable to the occasional mishap between the sticks – the handling error against Hibs in the Petrofac Training Cup and his positioning during St. Johnstone’s third goal at Ibrox spring to mind — though it must be noted that the Englishmen is still transitioning to life at Ibrox and time should iron those deficiencies out.
James Tavernier – A+
‘The Blue Cafu’, as he is affectionally known around Govan, has been a breath of fresh air since his arrival. A free-kick specialist, Tavernier has netted three times from dead-ball situations and rattled the woodwork from several others. His ability to drive into the penalty area, too, has been a revelation and few full-backs in the world could rival his six goals from open play in all competitions. Encouragingly, his jinking run and finish against St. Johnstone in the League Cup highlighted his capacity to produce the goods against the big boys.
Rob Kiernan – B
A shrewd acquisition, Kiernan’s transition into the Scottish game has been seamless and he has developed a strong, if somewhat rocky, partnership with Danny Wilson at heart of defence. A rugged, old-fashioned centre-half, the Englishman has excelled in aerial duels and refuses to let his marker get the better of him — as attested by his outburst against Falkirk. The Gers rearguard came under some severe scrutiny after the defeat to St. Johnstone and, though many supporters still believe Warburton requires another central defender, Kiernan has proven a more than adequate upgrade on the departed Darren McGregor.
Danny Wilson – B
Like his English counterpart, many still harbour doubts over Wilson’s ability to make the all-important step-up to the top flight, but few can discount the Scot’s organisational qualities in the back four. A proactive defender, which complements Warburton’s system perfectly, Wilson has proven an astute addition from Hearts and his distribution will certainly fill the gaffer with delight. Worrying, however, has been his chronic lack of pace — which was ruefully exposed by St Johnstone’s Michael O’Halloran.
Lee Wallace – A+
The skipper, Wallace has enjoyed a blistering start to the campaign and has shaken off the cobwebs of last season. Having developed a penchant for goals, the Scot has netted five already this campaign, including a quick-fire brace against St. Mirren on the opening weekend and decisive strikes against Livingston, Raith Rovers and Falkirk.
Dominic Ball – B
The Spurs loanee was acquired to provide cover for Warburton’s preferred central defensive pairing and Ball has done exactly what has been asked. A versatile defender, the Englishman can be deployed anywhere across the back line – highlighted by his solid showing at Queen of the South when Lee Wallace was forced off – and has rarely put a foot wrong.
Andy Halliday – A
A fan favourite, Halliday has been a revelation in his newfound deep lying playmaking role. Equipped with an enviable ability to switch play, and a capacity to weave his way out of tricky situations with his nimble footwork, few can play down the Scot’s impact on this Rangers side since his arrival. Left much to be desired with his defensive showing against St. Johnstone, though the boyhood Ger is certainly not a defensive midfielder by trade.
Jason Holt – A-
A quietly efficient midfielder, many can concur. Holt was snatched after the expiration of his contract with Hearts and, though not the most flashiest of midfielders, few can discredit his role in linking the midfield and attack. Often drifts out of the game — and is nominally the first to be hooked when Warburton rings the changes — but he can be a menace to opposing defences on his day and has chipped in with a few goals.
Gedion Zelalem – A
Arrived later than most, the Arsenal youth product is a symbol for the footballing purists and, though his influence on matches may not be as pronounced as many anticipated, his playmaking ability cannot go without recognition. Five assists since he made his debut against Airdrieonians — where he supplied a sumptuous pass into Martyn Waghorn for Rangers’ third of the evening — Zelalem injects pace into the line-up and his capacity to quicken the tempo is vital during the side’s inevitable lulls in possession. Falkirk may have been breezed past in the end but the American’s composure was sorely missed that afternoon.
Dean Shiels – B
Featured predominantly from the bench, the Irishman has netted twice while laying on a further assist. Has been able to impact games more lately and his goal against Falkirk underlined his predatory instinct inside the penalty box. With Northern Ireland having stamped their tickets for next summer’s Euro 2016, Shiels will be eager to impress.
Nicky Law – B-
The ex-Motherwell midfielder has fallen out of favour with the arrival of Zelalem and, with the exception of a lovely taken strike against Livingston, has done little to merit his place in the side.
Barrie McKay – A+
After a period of stasis, the winger has burst back onto the scene and has proven himself an indispensable figure under Warburton. Blessed with immense pace, agility and composure in the final-third, McKay has grabbed two goals this campaign while laying on an impressive four assists. A rejuvenated, a perhaps more refined, wideman under the new boss, McKay has more than merited his place on the left-hand side of Warburton’s attacking trio.
Martyn Waghorn – A
The Gers leading goalscorer with 14 to his name, few could have forecasted the goalscoring impact of the ex-Wigan forward upon his arrival. An instinctive finisher, Waghorn wields a wand of a left-peg — which was put to good use against Dumbarton — and boasts an immaculate penalty kick taking record. Concerning, though, has been his record in one-on-one situations — where he has failed to beat the keeper’ on several occasions — and his ability to link the play.
Nathan Oduwa – B+
Frustratingly, the Spurs youth product tends to waver between two extremes. He seems as equally liable to a storming display than to a nightmare. When he does have the beating of his marker, however, Oduwa can almost single-handedly steer his side towards victory, as Raith Rovers discovered. That day, the Englishman teed up Barrie McKay (via a deflection) and won Rangers’ second penalty of the afternoon in what was, many would agree, his brightest showing in a Rangers shirt.
Kenny Miller – B
Seldom deployed in his usual centre-forward role, Miller has proven a useful asset of the bench and provides adequate cover on the left. Though he offers little in the build-up play, the Scot has developed a knack of arriving late at the back post to sweep home — the area in which his first three goals of the campaign stemmed from. He may still be plagued by profligacy infront of goal, but he appears a more assured No.9 under Mark Warburton.
David Templeton – B-
After starting the campaign with a spring in his step, the winger has been struck by injury over recent weeks. Grabbed the side’s opener against Peterhead in the League Cup before providing the assist for Dean Shiels to cap off the Gers’ win over St. Mirren a week later.
Nicky Clark – B
The forward has been reduced to a bit-part player with the blistering goalscoring form of Martyn Waghorn, though the Scot has delivered when called upon. Followed up his deft finish against Ayr United with a lovely diving header against Airdrieonians in the League Cup. A menace in the 18-yard box.
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