Hello everyone, Andrew from The Ibrox Channel Podcast here with our first blog!
It’s my understanding that it’s not really a blog until you ‘Sevco’.
So there we go. I thought I would get that out of the way early doors.
Now let’s get to it. Welcome to the first of (hopefully many) Modern Classics where we at The Ibrox Channel look back to the best games in recent years. Thought I’d start with a game plucked from footballing purgatory. We don’t have to rewind too far back for this one. May 2023. Michael Beale was putting his stamp and style on the squad and impressed most with his run of results in the League.
However, there was just one little thing….
That lot. Yes, we failed to beat them since Beale took charge. We drew 2-2 of course in Beale’s first game v The Other Mob™️. A game with a fatal mistake to gift them the opener. We came back and led until they scored a late equaliser with their signature ‘ball across the face of goal’ that has undone us so many times before. We then lost the League Cup Final due to essentially the wrong team being fielded in the first half.
It wasn’t long before it was 3 straight defeats v them. Anytime we played them we seemed to fall into some sort of psychological trap where no matter how well we played and even at times dominated, we couldn’t help but make an error that leads directly to a goal. The games v The Other Mob™️ came thick and fast during this time. That didn’t help either.
Roll on to May 2023. The 13th to be precise. An unlucky number for some. The Other Mob™️ had sealed the title at Tynecastle the week before so were looking to party. They were also looking to extend their unbeaten run in the league to 35 games and try and beat their record points haul of 106 points. They also hadn’t beaten Rangers at Ibrox this season so despite the noise of it being a ‘meaningless Old Firm game’, there certainly were some records to play for.
For Rangers and Michael Beale, there was a hoodoo to break.
In recent weeks leading up to the match Beale had been quite vocal about changing the team up and focusing on the future, so we had seen a slightly different Rangers side in the run-up. A side that had a wee bit of hunger and energy about it. It surprised many and highlighted how stagnant the ‘go-to’ selection was.
As I say the build-up was a little different than usual. They had wrapped up the title and we were to be a little ‘plaything’ on that Saturday. There wasn’t much hope given for Beale in the media overall.
I was optimistic about this game. I thought the way we played overall against them wasn’t terrible (bar the Cup Final & of course THAT game at their ground under Gio) and if we just stopped the mistakes then surely we would do something. I was going through the scenarios in my head during my flight to Glasgow. There had been progression under Beale however we were still a bit shot shy. Especially in these games. Morelos looked like half the player he was only a season or 2 before and it looked like his and Beale’s relationship was a bit fractured at this point.
Sakala seemed the main threat for us in recent weeks. Fair play to him too, he became a decent outlet for us when asked. The same thing happened the season before when he was our main threat during injury crisis 1 (back when we all thought an injury crisis couldn’t get worse, season 22/23 said “Hold my beer”). However, we all know that Sakala can do the impossible, but, a lot of the time can’t do the ‘possible’.
When the teams were announced I was enjoying the fruits of the newly refurbished Club 72, right up in the bowels of Ibrox stadium. A lovely roll ‘n’ slice and a pint of cold Tennents while watching the scrolling Sky Sports news. Beale stuck with his word. The players who weren’t starting probably had no future at the club. It was a bold statement. Morelos on the bench. Not the biggest shock but a huge indicator that we wouldn’t be seeing him next year. ‘He might come on at some point’ is always a possibility however it never happened. Kent was missing the game due to a knee injury however it’s mad to say that it was no big loss as his form had been not just poor, but lacklustre. Kent would generally try too hard when things weren’t working. He wasn’t even at that level. You could see his time at Ibrox was finished. Robby McCrorie though was an interesting one. Think we all knew he was going to start. Beale wasn’t misty-eyed at the prospect of playing McGregor in his final Old Firm match. That’s a big decision. No romance from the Gaffer. Robby is no stranger to an Old Firm game. No stranger to an Old Firm win either. Robby had dug us out of holes before with flying colours without really seeming to do too much. The Sasa Papac of goalkeeping if you like. He wasn’t going to be the number one the following season however he has more of a future at the club than the rest.
Oh, and he comes for crosses.
The interesting one was Rabbi Matondo. Completely failed to set the Heather alight and was sidelined after some poor passing in games and missing a few gilt-edged chances. He hadn’t shown us too much on the pitch. He possibly wasn’t settling well. He had plenty of promise during the early part of his career. Bought by Schalke for around €9 million. The Welsh international then had clearly lost his way. A player like that was always music to Ross Wilson’s ears. A player with a hefty price tag that needed a new start. So we managed to secure him for a cut price of £1.8 million (the fee was undisclosed, however, several outlets went with that price). It felt like we barely saw him this season however he had played in 19 games. It really didn’t feel like 19 games. A chance for redemption?
The game also had starts for Yilmaz, Souttar, Lundstrum and Jack.
Definitely not a first team. It highlighted the monumental task that Beale had coming up in the summer.
The Other Mob™️ had a handful of changes. Notably Kobayashi, Bernabei, and Oh up front.
The stadium was of course utterly full. As usual. Despite the rumblings that tickets were still available. There was a potent air of excitement before kick-off. Everyone who maybe wasn’t so ‘up for it’ was really ‘up for it’ now. The stadium was electric once Simply The Best came on and the teams came out.
It was the usual ferocious start. We seemed to be a bit more organised with our passing. The tactic at times had become ‘hoof it up to Sakala’ who would be either forced into a corner or would have to bring the ball down and take on a defender. Cantwell was a joy to watch. Borderline showboating at times. For me though this was the first I really got to see Raskin grow into the player I want him to be. We’ve never really ever had that Number 6 since Barry Ferguson. Someone who can take the ball and dictate play. Cantwell and Raskin rejuvenated our sad and worn midfield. The team will surely be built around them.
The opener came from sheer perseverance. A great hit from Lundstrum from the edge of the area was parried by Joe ‘Head & Shoulders’ Hart, right into the path of Cantwell who reacted magnificently to bury the ball from a tight angle.
Is this us? Reacting to a half chance to take a nice early lead from our first shot of the game? Can get used to that.
The ghost of early 22/23 nearly reared its ugly head.
The Other Mob™️ broke and a brilliant ball was played to Oh, McCrorie came out, however what I originally thought was hesitation, I think was a slip. Oh had the goal gaping, dinks it over McCrorie and it thuds off the keeper’s bottom right-hand post. McCrorie may have got the slightest touch on the ball. Either way, the flight of the ball doesn’t change. It’s not quite van Vossen however Oh had an early chance to be a hero. It wasn’t to be for him. Thankfully.
That miss seemed to knock the stuffing out of them. They knew it wasn’t going to be their day in the Govan sunshine.
We smelled blood.
It didn’t take long for us to turn the screw. A great out-swinging corner from Tav meets the head of boyhood Rangers man John Souttar and he thunders it past Hart. Not a big fan of outswingers, however, this was executed well. That lot don’t seem to be tested enough from set pieces in Scotland. You can see they can be a bit shaky from them. Especially with CCV missing. Great goal for Souttar who had missed a large chunk of the season due to injury and personal reasons.
2-0 was a great scoreline at HT. we had only mustered 3 goals against them in all the other games combined this season. There couldn’t be more surely?
Raskin was interviewed by Police Scotland at halftime in connection with the disappearance of Callum McGregor as he hadn’t been seen during the whole first half. He was also posted as missing for the second one too…
The second half started and wasn’t as ferocious as the first. I think both sides knew the game was done. We still had the edge. I think we definitely wanted another couple of goals.
Not long after the half started, Ryan Jack was caught out. A rare mistake in this game. It wouldn’t be the Rangers of 22/23 if there wasn’t a mistake in an Old Firm I guess. O’Reily the surprise transfer from the land of hopes, dreams and roundabouts, the East Kilbride of the south, Milton Keynes Dons, who had a great first season, robbed Jack and thundered to the edge of the box. Souttar jockied him well, however, he was still able to get a shot away. McCrorie though. Who hadn’t had much to do all game, pulled off a fantastic save. Granted it probably was at a great height for him, but he still had a bit to do.
We saw more from Raskin. He played a great ball to Sakala. Hart had come out and forced Sakala wide. Layed it off to Cantwell who thunders a shot at goal, hoping to catch out Hart. The former England international did well to put it wide considering he was off his line.
It was the Cantwell show though. He was doing things we didn’t see enough of this season. Taking the ball and driving. He was running them ragged. If you had to put money on a hat trick, it would have been on him.
As we were ebbing towards the final quarter I was slightly disappointed that we hadn’t scored more. Yeah, I’m not greedy or anything. A win is a win, I know, however, it’s good to lay a marker for next season. Especially with a changed-up squad that was essentially a second string.
It wasn’t long though before my prayers to Ken Dodd were answered. A defensive mix-up between Starfelt and Kobayashi resulted in Sakala breaking away. Now as we know Sakala is our Jekyll & Hyde character. Especially when he has time to think.
He had time to think.
It felt like the whole stadium went into a collective silence with a collective groan waiting in the wings.
He rounded Hart.
Still, the crowd is silent as am I.
He slotted it in the tightest gap possible between Hart and the post.
3-0. 20 minutes to go. Could we get more?
A well-taken goal from the man from Zambia.
Ibrox hadn’t seen a victory like this since the pandemic, when we all watched the demolition from home and pubs in select tiers around the country (Remember those mad days?).
It hadn’t been a great season. However, this was our wee moment. Plant that small seed of doubt in the heads of the opposition. Yes, they argued they had a ‘second string reserve team’ out. Bar 3/4 players that was a strong side… We were playing Matondo… Who by the way had one of his better games. It wasn’t a classic from him, it’s just our expectations had been set so low that he seemed better. He had a few crosses and he had beaten a few players out on the left and centrally, granted he was up against Ralston and Starfelt.
The crowd seemed buoyant at Full Time. We didn’t get carried away. We left with a smile on our faces though. Michael Beale finally beat them. We finally beat them. Beale broke that hoodoo before next season. Players like Morelos and Kent definitely felt like the past. I do feel if Kent, Morelos and McGregor played, we would have lost. It would have been that usual turgid performance. That team had past its sell-by date at least a year before. It had stagnated. It’s cycle had come to an end long ago. We had become predictable. This game symbolised not just the need for change, but the fact bringing in these players who weren’t deemed starters earlier in the season, was the correct decision. Beale got these guys organised well and working in the system. Sure they were limited, however, we got a better output than the team that set up against The Other Mob™️ at the start of the season. Importantly this side would win 50/50’s, be flying into tackles and would look for the more direct penetrative option.
Now a lot of this will be theoretical as this game only occurred 2 months ago, however, will this core that started on this day, be starters next season? Probably only a handful. As I write this we are in the mire that is the close season. Beale had done well to get a tune out of those fringe players. We were a horseshoe-shaped mess before he came in. Beale got these fringe guys playing for their futures. Made them go up a gear. Some will secure moves due to their latter-season performances rather than releases. Beale tactically organised these guys well. The reality though is that the majority of these guys won’t cut the (Dijon) mustard next season for us. We need a clearout. We have held on to the ghost of 55 for too long. That’s in the past. We have to look to the future.
So is there such a thing as a meaningless Old Firm?
A great win for the Rangers and Michael Beale.
Something to build on.
To quote an old mobile company.
The future’s bright, the future’s Beale.
Or something like that.
Hope you enjoyed that game as much as I did. A bit of a different Modern Greats as the game was only weeks old, however, is significant in Michael Beale’s early tenure.
Look out for more blogs coming soon from The Ibrox Channel. The next Modern Greats will look back at that wonderful night back in early 2022 when Rangers, against all odds, pulled off a miracle at the Westfalenstadion V Dortmund.
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Andrew can also be found on twitter @ojmiester87