It’s new for Gio van Bronckhorst, but Rangers know second-half season syndrome: Keith Jackson’s big verdict


It may all be new to Giovanni van Bronckhorst, but the Rangers have been affected by this condition before.

If they’re not careful, this latest variant of the second-half season syndrome could quickly turn into something nastier than the new manager might have expected when he first arrived to give the champions a much-needed opportunity. .

Having dropped points at Pittodrie in their first game after the lockout, Van Bronckhorst saw his players seriously consider shooting another two before substitute Scott Arfield pulled an impressive game-winner out of the bag to snap them out of their own mediocrity.

With a delicious flick of his right boot, Arfield managed to open a gap in Livingston’s heavily manned defenses and Van Bronckhorst must now hope, with Celtic Park on the horizon, that the side effects of this slow return to action don’t linger too long. . .

His starting XI added weight to the idea that the manager is still groping this team at a critical point in the campaign. Without Ryan Kent, Alfredo Morelos and Joe Aribo, he had to get creative.

Still, there was a suck-and-see element to the team he sent out and the midfield trio in particular.

Despite having Scott Arfield, John Lundstram and Ryan Jack available for selection, van Bronckhorst gave youngster Alex Lowry the go-ahead to pick up where he left off as Ianis Hagi’s replacement against Stirling Albion.

That was a great decision, but he doubled down by giving a starting job to another new kid, young American gun James Sands. Up front, second chancer Cedric Itten was chosen to lead the attack flanked by Fashion Sakala and Scott Wright.

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While the Rangers are being reinvented by their boss, Livingston remains reliable and predictable. Puffed, rugged and defensively trained, David Martindale does what he says on the tin.

So this always had the makings of a long shift on a dirty night on Glasgow’s south side.

Sakala and Lowry could have lightened the load in the opening minutes when the striker pounced on a loose ball and set the youngster up for an early goal shot.

Lowry’s connection was too weak to bother Max Stryjek from 18 meters and the keeper saved comfortably.

There was also an early scare at the other end when Allan McGregor sent a messy clearance straight to Odin Bailey and then had to run back to rip the midfielder’s nifty effort under his own crossbar.

After this flurry of activity, the competition settled into the expected pattern, lots of Rangers possession but few precious chances created against a brick wall defence.

All this coupled with a curious lack of intensity given what is at stake.

Yes, Sakala looked brilliant in flashes and Lowry floated around midfield displaying the wit and intelligence of someone twice his age, but aside from those two, the Rangers seemed oddly flat.

Wright would have opened the scoring in 25 minutes if Jack Fitzwater hadn’t returned in time to clear the line.

alex lowry

Lowry was about to put one on a plate for Itten after dancing in the river as he made his way through a group of white shirts inside the box.

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The youngster then lobbed a ball across the face of the goal, but Itten’s reactions were too slow for a touch.

Then, seven minutes before the break, Sakala was brought down by Stryjek at the left goalkeeper’s post as the Zambian passed a threatening cross from James Tavernier. Van Bronckhorst resisted the urge to make a switch at halftime, surprising given the lack of drive in the middle of the park, where Sands and Glen Kamara were making poor time in the pouring rain.

It was Lowry who was responsible for making the difference. He sent Tavernier down the right at the start of the second half to create the next half’s chance with a cross that Itten headed wide from six meters.

A long night was also turning into a nervous night when frustration began to boil in the stands.

Sakala could have set off the tension on 54 minutes had he not fired another direct shot at Stryjek after cleverly turning on the edge of the box.

With grunts now grunts, van Bronckhorst replaced Sands and Itten with Arfield and Kemar Roofe.

It was Sakala who continued to pose the greatest threat.

He was close again just after the hour when he worked his way inside the penalty area and then caught Stryjek with a quick shot that flew through the goalkeeper’s legs and across the open goal.

Then, in the 70th minute, he forced the goalkeeper to stop with the pad of his finger after going into another dizzying gallop. When the breakthrough finally came, at 25 minutes, Sakala played a part in that as well.

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He combined with Borna Barisic and sent the winger to the baseline.

Barisic conjured a cross into the area, but the real magic came from Arfield, who, with the outside of his right boot, managed to launch an exquisite shot over Stryjek and land inside the far post.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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