By Kyle McLean (ForeignRangersFan) | Guest Contributor
What a cruel hand that fate has dealt Daniel Candeias. In the end, the only player who seemed to fight for Pedro Caixinha and it was by his hand that Pedro’s time at Rangers came to an end.
Put that penalty in the back of the net and let there be no mistake – Pedro would still be in a job. Hopefully, Candeias’ misfortune serves to improve the long-term prospects of the club, as we saw on Saturday against Hearts.
This Kilmarnock game was immense in the sense that it encapsulated almost every major issue of Pedro’s tenure as manager. Poor player mentality, missed sitters, inability to deal with a basic opposition man-to-man press, lack of attacking creativity, even the very specific goal conceded from a cross beating the left back and put in due to shambolic marking in the box. It all ended with a drawn out death rattle.
When it comes to how we retain the ball, previously I’ve discussed incisive possession (which Jack and Dorrans tend to manage quite well) contrasted against stagnant ownership of the ball. Here we saw the latter. In large amounts.
While we lost the ball fewer times than any previous match this season, that’s mostly because it sat between Alves and McCrorie the entire first half. Jack was varying degrees of effective while Windass barely saw it. There was no movement nor fire in this team. Kudos must go to Steve Clarke on a very effective debut as Kilmarnock manager. He made a lot of right calls – or at least, we made enough wrong ones to make him look good.
Passing map - first 45
This was Pedro’s Rangers at their worst. Completely devoid of creativity, sitting far too deep and passing back and forth between Alves and McCrorie for the majority of the first half (those two made more passes than any other pair of players on the pitch – usually figures reached by the combination of Tavernier and Candeias or John and Windass).
Playing at Ibrox was something Pedro could never quite crack. He was prone to one large tactical oversight per game, whether it was stretching the width instead of the length or just line ups that were too poor. Here, it was simple. Having lost to Motherwell at the weekend, surely he knew he had to win. He had to go get the three points and get the season back on track. Instead, this is how we played the first half and start of the second:
Kilmarnock were never going to attack us. How did he not understand that? He had seen Hearts come to Ibrox and sit deep. The players had no ideas about what to do with the ball, as if no one had prepared them for this. Their most predictable game-plan.
He played with Jack as a defensive midfielder and Windass and Candeias as width-stretching wingers (allowing the full backs to underlap), thereby leaving Morelos completely isolated in the middle of the park. Fortunately (insofar as his poor luck proved to be the team’s good luck) Dorrans was injured and we brought on Herrera. Even here, Jack still sat very deep and I would say we were too defensive. It was an incomprehensible line-up to lead out with for a game he needed to win.
Passing map - second 45
In all honesty, the shame of looking to cling on for the win against Kilmarnock at home showed that Pedro did not have what was required to lead us forwards. To take off Morelos with 13 minutes to go and for a more defensive set-up with Barjonas dropping to central midfield and Jack back to defensive midfield showed a complete lack of ambition, and that’s what hurt us in the end.
This team is always prone to conceding a goal. To hope to cling on to a one goal lead was naïve. The whole concept of clinging on to something against Killie and, especially the fact it was naïve, makes me shudder. Clearly there were innumerable issues in the team.
What Pedro most importantly failed to convey into his troops was the mentality required to play for Rangers. Under the slightest bit of pressure from an opposition press, our defensive line would fall apart. Tavernier would lose the ball repeatedly, punting it up to Candeias only to see it returned. Worse still was Foderingham. From short, comfortable passes in the first half, consistently in the second half he would start to go long, lose possession and suddenly things would turn frantic. He couldn’t instil confidence or calm.
The absolute encapsulation of this inability to understand what it means to play for Rangers, and who needed the guidance most of all, was Jack. In his last five seasons at Aberdeen he had been sent off once. In this season (ten games alone) he has been sent off three times. Sure, they may have been repealed but the issue is that he understands there is a different requirement to play for Rangers as opposed to Aberdeen. He just does not know what that entails, and needs someone to guide him as to what it is. Pedro was never able to get it across to him – and it’ll be interesting to see if Murty or Kenny Miller will be able to help him mature.
Alves pulled out of position
Each of our defenders could be said to have a clear weakness. Alves’ thus far has been getting pulled out of position too easily and it happens here again, being dragged by Jones and not alerting John to the threat behind him. Broadfoot starts the move with a great through ball that is the kind of ball we should expect from Alves himself, hitting Jones from his own half. Jones proceeds to flick the ball back across Alves who aimlessly runs too close after the attacker and allows him to turn and get a shot away.
It is amateurish by Alves and a mistake that led to us conceding against both Hibs and Partick Thistle. He is not tracking opposition attackers as intelligently as he should be.
Defensive set piece weaknesses
Pedro fixed the issue of corners that Warburton seemed incapable of solving. To be fair to him, Alves is core to that, he is an immense aerial presence and has been very effective in that regard. However, we still suffered immensely from two types of set pieces under Pedro: seemingly inauspicious free kicks that are played short (resulting in goals conceded to Progres and Motherwell) and offensive throw ins (resulting in Slivka’s goal for Hibs against us). They are such simple scenarios to avoid as well, dropping one attacking player in both scenarios would resolve them.
Sure, the argument can be made that Alves and John should close-down the attacker but in reality, the opportunity should never have been presented in the first place. A lot of small, easily rectifiable errors seemed to be Pedro’s downfall. Perpetual small margins that were against him – but in reality, you make your own luck and he couldn’t make it happen.
Expected goal chain
These numbers sadly only reinforce the fact that Herrera was abysmal, along with Windass. However, John and Holt were inspired – and Morelos continues to be the leading light and superstar of this strikeforce. With an assist against Kilmarnock and Hearts, he is developing quickly into an integral part of this team. Frustration over lack of goals is creeping in a bit I feel, but his intelligent running and hold-up play contributes so much to the overall team dynamic.
I felt it was possibly a bit early for Pedro to go. In hindsight, however, the first home loss to Aberdeen in decades, our tie worst ever home result to Celtic and these consecutive performances where it was clear he had lost the players’ support meant his time was over. Now we look forward to the next hire, whomever it may be, while the first team remains in the ever-capable hands of Graeme Murty.
There are now massive questions over the resolve of this squad. Candeias seemed unaffected by Wednesday’s performance and the subsequent sacking of Pedro, though Alves and Cardoso were both out and Pena dropped to the reserves. Herrera was pathetic against Kilmarnock so his performances can only get better.
Herrera and Pena both have very good players in them. I fear Pedro’s biggest weakness was his man management, and possibly a manager more in tune to his player’s psychology could possibly motivate our Latin players to perform at the level of which we know they are capable – even if we have only seen them in small bursts thus far. Miller has proven he is not over the hill as well, and he will be useful in steadying the ship in the short term.
As ever, the Rangers caravan rolls ever forwards, even if this is the final stop for Pedro. I remain ever curious to see where our club’s next flash point of drama is – the new manager should provide plenty of column inches. Either way, until next time, where I'll be analysing the 3-1 win at Murrayfield.