Hamilton Accies recorded their first league victory at Ibrox in 91 years on Saturday, in what was another inefficient home performance from Rangers.
Martin Canning’s side had caused problems for the light blues in the reverse fixture earlier in the season, a game in which Rangers won 4-1 but still managed to look shaky, and they took full advantage of their opportunities when they arose.
Rangers were forced into a change as Declan John’s injury saw Lee Hodson once again deputising at left-back, but the 4-4-2 that caretaker Graeme Murty had employed against Hearts and Partick Thistle remained intact.
Hamilton, lined-up in their usual 3-5-2, with David Templeton playing a shadow striker role off Antonio Rojano who led the line.
Rangers dominated possession from the off as expected but Hamilton’s defensive set-up was clear from the off. Wes Foderingham was going to be forced into playing it long from goal-kicks, while centre-back pairing Ross McCrorie and Danny Wilson were to be shown inside to prevent the build-up play from being funnelled down Rangers’ greatest source of creativity: the right flank.
Whenever Templeton or Rojano pressed the ball they arced their run from outside to in, forcing the play down the centre where Hamilton attempted to use Greg Docherty’s athleticism to press either Jason Holt or Ryan Jack, the deepest midfielder.
Darren Lyon supplied pressure behind too, which left space for the centre-backs to clip the ball into the feet of Morelos.
Lee Hodson managed to beat the pressing trap on a few occasions by taking up positions in the half-space or by making diagonal runs inside Templeton to receive the ball in the centre of the park. Skondras man-marked Windass, which left the Northern Irishman in space to turn.
While allowing Rangers to eventually manage comfortable possession higher up the park, the problem for Rangers was that Hodson, already not the most comfortable on the ball, was operating on the opposite flank to his natural side.
As mentioned, Windass continually moved inside to disrupt Accies’ set-up but this compounded Hodson’s natural inclination to cut inside and go backwards rather than play the ball down the line where Windass was making penetrable runs.
Windass was given a free role by Murty and, despite being singled out as the scapegoat for the defeat, was Rangers’ main creator. With him and Miller dropping behind the Hamilton midfield, it gave Rangers numerous opportunities to take advantage of Gogic stepping out, as the Cypriot repeatedly edged out from his position to pick up, but too often the final ball was lacking or the opportunity had vanished by the time it was spotted.
Rangers had 21 shots on goal, with five or six clear-cut chances for Morelos alone and the bar being rattled twice from close distance.
It was a classic case of snatch and grab for Hamilton who recorded their second fewest number of shots in any game this season with just six. In the previous meeting Hamilton managed 13 shots.
Rangers dipped after the first twenty-five minutes, with the home side looking most threatening when on the counter-attack.
MacKinnon, sitting as the spare midfielder, opted to retain shape rather than support the first line of the counter-press, but that made it easy for Rangers to break out with numbers and exploit the left channel.
Murty lamented Hamilton’s ability to beat the press and gain stints of comfortable possession. He told Rangers TV: “I wasn’t happy at all with our structure behind the ball. When we pressed them in they got out too easily with the first ball and were able to transition up the pitch without any pressure on the ball from us.”
As Hamilton grew in to the game, this ability to play the ball into the feet of David Templeton began to influence the play by shifting towards the right flank.
Rangers’ play often broke down in central areas but the number of players ahead of the ball made it easy for Hamilton launch counter-attacks from these positions. Docherty, in particular, used his pace to power through the thirds, was evidenced in the second goal when some insipid defending from Hodson allowed Bingham to set him on his way at the half-way line.
Caixinha spoke about improving the lines of coverage around the ball to secure the breakdown but, in the below example, Ryan Jack fails to support the play quickly enough to prevent the overturn.
In the first-half, the play had unusually been concentrated down the opposite flank as Candeias played high up the park in line with the front two. He didn’t stretch Scott McMann as much as he could have though and in the second-half there was an improved relationship between the two as the Portuguese maintained width to create space to slide Tavernier in to the byline.
After conceding the first goal due to a Ross McCrorie error, Rangers became frantic in their attempts to salvage something from the game. Under Pedro Caixinha Rangers’ over-reliance on crosses became a permanent feature when chasing games as Candeias and Tavernier transpired to bombard the Hearts penalty area with an array of crosses from deep.
Christophe Berra was outstanding that day and Hamilton defender their box similarly well on Saturday too. Tomas, the first player the club have signed for a fee in eight years, covered the front post space regularly but the lack of movement in the box made the majority of these crosses futile.
In total, Rangers made 55 crosses, which must be close to a league record. In Murty’s two other games in charge Rangers attempted 20 cross against Partick Thistle and 15 against Hearts.
With just seven points from twenty one at Ibrox, it appears that the current crop of players allow the restlessness of the crowd to cloud their thinking, resorting in hopeful crosses in to striker who are dwarfed and outnumbered.