We’re heading into the business end of 2018/19 and Rangers are all set for a tilt at glory on four fronts. Can they do it?
2019 clicked in and we were still in all competitions for the first time in a long time. Admittedly, we probably wouldn’t get past Manchester City in the Europa League but we were still in four competitions. So how did we do?
Well, we did have the small matter of the January transfer window where we saw the departure of Robbie Crawford (mentioned in the previous edition) on New Year’s Day. Transfer activity was minimal with only young defender Ian Miller leaving on loan to join Partick Thistle. We had managed to raid the MLS to snag Mexican defender Cesar Armando Hernandez (also mentioned last time) and a new striker in the Tunisian international Habib Ben Yahia. Highly rated by my scouts with a lovely, mixed skill-set, he should be the answer to my striking woes (Ben Craig is the new Nicky Clark and I’ve lost all faith in Guyon Philips) plus PSG only wanted £300,000 for the 22 year old so it was a perfect no lose deal. With all business done and dusted, I had settled back into the games ahead when deadline day hit us with a sucker punch. There had been rumoured interest in some of our players but one man who couldn’t shake it was Ismail Bouzar who was wanted all over Europe (Milan, Stuttgart, Monchengladbach) and eventually two sides made their interest concrete – Stoke and Spurs. £4.5 million was the amount offered by each for the now labelled “wonderkid” with both eventually agreeing to loan him back to me. I accepted, knowing that I have options and Bouzar was having an inconsistent season. He decided on Stoke over Spurs and the Algerian-born French youth international was no longer permanently ours.
On to the football and we’ll start in Europe because I think we all know what the outcome was. City were far more clinical than us in the first leg and just simply created chances in the second. A side containing Umtiti, Bernard, Willian and Vincent Kompany as a holding midfielder won 3-1 at Ibrox in a fairly even game decided by the clinical finishing by Balde Keita. Nicolas Gaitan’s goal gave faint hope that was destroyed in Manchester by Leon Goretzka’s double and Lazar Markovic. We had 60% possession though so positives.
Also mentioned last time was our trip to Celtic Park for the fifth round which did not go to plan at all. My big rallying cry pre-match led the boys to go out and concede after two minutes. Tommy Reid scored on the stoke of half time to leave us two down at the break and my words did get a reaction second half. Ben Yahia got one back before we fell apart conceding a Scott Brown penalty and a very late Jason Carroll goal to get mauled 4-1.
The League Cup gave us more joy though. We left off with us in a semi final against struggling Hearts and with no Celtic around meaning that we should really win it. We managed to brush aside the Jambos 5-2 to set up a showdown with Hibs. I got the boys all fired up and ready to go only to end up back in the changing room 45 minutes later 3-0 DOWN! Nicky Law and Barrie McKay got goals back but it was too little too late for us and Hibs deservedly won it 3-2.
So… three competitions down and three spectacular failures so far. Now you’re probably expecting some kind of fantastic failure here too but we kind of maybe did win the league comfortably. See, Celtic under Stuart McCall may have become slightly soft in tough away games and faltered at some unthinkable times (they lost at home to bottom side Dunfermline) while we just kept winning. We weren’t massively thrilling or amazingly unbeatable but we just managed to grind out the results. Less flash, more grit basically. We did comfortably win a few big games including a Marcos Lopes hat trick in a 4-0 derby win at Ibrox. We could have won the title at Celtic Park but they managed to nab a 2-1 win late on to prevent it before imploding the following week and handing us the title. I continued my tight grip on Manager of the Month awards, winning all but four all season and consequently swept the Manager of the Year awards. Nicolas Gaitan was Football Writer’s Player of the Year, Barrie McKay was Player of the Year and Ismail Bouzar got Young Player of the Year.
Player performance across the board was solid if unspectacular. The fans voted Greg Pascazio as their Player of the Season despite patchy form in the first half of the season and then wonderful display towards the back end of the season. He even managed to chip in with 7 goals all after January. Sebastian Faure was immense all season as he passed 200 games under my management (I passed 300 in January) while Andy Murdoch despite injury was outstanding and reached 100 league games on the final day of the season. Nico Gaitan was incredible on the left wing and David Templeton even managed to play well when he got the chance. Jordy Clasie was meh at best while Nicolae Pusca missed a fair chunk of the season but did well when given the chance. Alexandr Klimovich didn’t hit the heights I was expecting but showed genuine moments of brilliance during the second half of the season. My curse with strikers goes on though. Ben Yahia started excellently then just stopped scoring and didn’t score again until May. He finished with six goals, Guyon Philips managed FOUR all season (only one was in the league) while Ben Craig hit nine. My strikers combined only scored one more than Gaitan did on his own. I’m cursed I swear.
We said goodbye to Liam Donnelly (who didn’t improve in three years, his broken leg probably destroying that); David Templeton (not good enough anymore and getting on) and some youngsters as their contracts expired. Club captain Lee Wallace left too. He’d already complained after we secured the title that he wanted to have a new challenge elsewhere so we sold in a cut price deal to QPR. £195,000 is on the low side but I wanted him out to develop Hernandez and Jamie Mills. Nicky Law is also one that is dispensable now. He has the ability to make a difference but his consistency is waning and he’s third choice in his position. Jose Baxter hasn’t repaid £4.5 million in two seasons for me either while I wish someone would take James Tomkins who is now fourth choice and on £30,000 a week.
Now hopefully we can build on this and move forward and there is some promise moving forward but we need to strengthen in a couple of areas. There are some promising youngsters that are going to get their shot this coming season including right back Derek Johnstone and right winger Ryan Mackintosh with new youth recruits like Anthony Young (who made a scoring debut on the final day of the season) and Johnny Doyle keeping our youth team exciting.
That’s all for season seven then. Who knows what will happen in season eight? Stay tuned to find out.