The season is just three days away as Mark Warburton looks to hit the ground running as Rangers boss with a win in the Petrofac Training Cup away to Hibernian.
With only a handful of games under their belt, there may be a feeling that they are underprepared for the first game of the new campaign. Despite losing to Burnley, at Ibrox, the light blues put in a pleasing performance against the recently relegated Clarets, and the new management team of Warburton and Davie Weir will have been happy with how their newly-assembled side carried out their instructions.
Seven new signings started the game with Wes Foderingham, James Tavernier, Rob Kiernan, Danny Wilson, Andy Halliday, Jason Holt and Martyn Waghorn all making their Ibrox bow, with Tavernier and Halliday in particular impressing against the English side. Jordan Thompson also made his debut following his move from Manchester United, replacing Halliday midway through the second half, and has seemingly worked his way into the manager’s plans already despite originally being planned as a signing for Ian Durrant’s development side.
Wes Foderingham looks to have usurped Cammy Bell as the Rangers number one. The former Swindon man has looked assured during pre-season and will look to hold on to the jersey for a long time. I’m not sure if Bell has an injury or not, but he has been virtually invisible so far during pre-season. Liam Kelly has been named on the substitutes’ bench in the fixtures so far and it’ll be interesting to see if it changes at the weekend.
I’m a big fan of Danny Wilson (regular readers may remember I tipped him for a move to Ibrox back in May) and his experience since making his debut alongside Davie Weir five years ago will see him return to Govan a much more polished defender than the one who left to join Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool. He’s comfortable on the ball and will be the one who will be marshalling the defence.
Kiernan looks to be a strong, tough tackling defender who will be, perhaps, a bit more aggressive than Wilson. Tavernier and Wallace will provide plenty of attacking width to the side and will regularly bomb forward to offer an additional option to the wide players further forward. Both have shown they are good defenders when called upon but will hopefully find themselves in more attacking positions throughout the season. Fraser Aird appears to have been converted into an attacking right-back in recent weeks and will, alongside Darren McGregor and Marius Zaliukas, offer some extra depth to the manager’s options.
In midfield there are a whole host of options available to the manager. Andy Halliday, who has already shown more in the few weeks he has been at the club than Ian Black did in three years previous, will play a big part this season. The former Livingston man will be busting a gut to impress having grown up just yards away from Ibrox on Copland Road. He’ll provide the base of a three-man midfield, mopping up in front of the back four and breaking up play, allowing his two partners to push forward in support of the main striker. This means there will be a lot of competition for places with Halliday, Nicky Law, Dean Shiels, Tom Walsh and Andy Murdoch, as well as new boys Jason Holt and Jordan Thompson and, depending on fitness, John Eustace.
The front three will be made up of a main striker and two wide players who will look to cut inside and link up with the midfield and central striker. In the wide positions, there are a number of players battling for two places with the aforementioned Law, Aird, Shiels and Walsh all capable of playing there added to David Templeton, Barrie McKay and Calum Gallagher.
Centrally is where the biggest question mark lies, although the addition of Martyn Waghorn may improve that. Kenny Miller can’t lead the line for the full season and Nicky Clark just doesn’t seem to be quite good enough to be the focal point of the attack either. Gallagher and Ryan Hardie offer alternatives too, but neither seems to have really been part of the first-team during pre-season. The lack of a 20-goal-a-season striker is one of the things that was most noticeable about Rangers last season. Nicky Law outscored the combined total of any two from Boyd, Miller and Clark last season. Waghorn’s goalscoring record doesn’t suggest he’s the man to be the prolific goalscorer Rangers need, but I’ve been wrong about things like this before.
On top of all this, there’s a few other youngsters on the periphery of the first-team squad who will look to take the opportunity presented with the appointment of a new management team. There’s still also around six weeks of the transfer window to go so there may be more new faces making their way down Edmiston Drive sometime soon.
Scott Allan is one name who persists in being linked with a move to Ibrox. Whether Hibs want to sell their prized asset to their main title rivals remains to be seen, but in football, and especially in Scottish football, cash is king (or should that be King?) and Rangers may make an offer that the Easter Road hierarchy can’t refuse.
Most tellingly, almost every player linked with, or who has actually completed a move to, Rangers has been in their mid to early 20s. Warburton looks to be building a side which can develop over a number of years and finally retake Rangers’ rightful place at the top tables of Scottish and European football.
In the words of Roger Daltrey, and in a reference you might need to ask your parents about, “the kids are alright.”