When Mark Warburton arrived at Rangers in the summer of 2015, he stressed that his team wouldn't overly focus on one primary goalscorer, but that due to his attack minded ideology, the goals would come from all over the pitch. No one striker would particularly stand out, as the midfield would be more than expected to score their fair share of goals. This was further emphasised with the signing of 25-year-old Martyn Waghorn from Wigan. As a youngster Waghorn was considered to have excellent potential, but his career had somewhat stagnated as he failed to live up to expectation at both Leicester and Wigan. Before this season, he'd never managed to retain a regular start at either club, much less find the back of the net consistently. It was clear he wasn't yet considered an "out-and-out goalscorer".
Flash-forward to February 2016, and Waghorn has scored over 25 goals across four competitions, leading the Championship table with a ratio of almost a goal per game in the League. But fans still say he's not an out-and-out goalscorer, and we're inclined to agree. Discounting that a fair number of his goals have come from the penalty spot, Waghorn squanders an awful lot of chances, and at times take far too many touches in the penalty box. Part of this may be due to the sheer number of defenders always surrounding him, but it's clear he doesn't fully possess the first touch / poaching ability of a traditional no. 9 - but he doesn't need to. Within this team his all-round play and ability to get into good positions, as well as provide crucial assists for other players, has meant he can play anywhere across the front three, scoring or assisting in almost every game. And now he's injured. For 6-8 weeks
Even before Waghorn's injury we've been struggling somewhat in front of goal, and he's massively struggled in front of goal during the five previous games before his injury. Now, we don't want to come across as too reactionary, or present the situation as utterly dire. After all, we've still won almost every game since the turn of the year, only dropping points during the 1-1 against Alloa last weekend, as well as the frustration of a goalless draw against Kilmarnock a few days before. Not exactly dreadful form, but when you compare it to the beginning of January, we've gone from scoring an average of 4 goals per game to only 1. There's been a noticeable drop-off since half-time during the snow swept game against Livingston on 16th January.
While there's been an obvious lack of goals scored since that game, it can't be argued that we suddenly aren't playing well, or that there's been any distinguishable changes in tactics. The team is still averaging roughly 9 shots on target per game, but they just don't seem to be finding the back of the net nearly as often. It would be over the top to call performances bad over the past month. After the dirge endured the past few seasons, I've yet to see a game this season where I can genuinely call us poor. However, if any game was to get close to that standard, it would be last weekend's 1-0 victory against Queen of the South. Save for Kenny Miller's magnificent lobbed effort, we looked totally unconvincing, lacking intensity or the edge to break down their 10 man defence. The ultra-defensive mindset of Championship opposition is something we've had to learn to deal with all season, but we seem to be getting worse at it. The good side to this is that during our last dip in October / November last year, we weren't able to grind out results like we've managed so far this time.
It's normally seen as a "sign of Champions" to dig deep and find these small victories, but if we've got any chance of progressing further in the Scottish Cup we need to find our shooting boots soon. With the fixture list coming to a close, and an important top of the league clash again Hibernian next month, the next few games are vital. Kenny Miller has had a pretty good season so far, scoring 13 goals in 29 appearances. But the 36-year-old isn't going to be able to start every match for the remainder of the season, nor replace Waghorn's goal ratio. The only other out-and-out striker at the club, Nicky Clark, has never shown consistency since signing for Rangers in 2013, neither managing to nail down a regular start or supply goals frequently. To his credit, he has managed to score a couple of vital, late goals this season. Again, it's hard to see him starting routinely over the next few weeks, and he's perhaps likely to be a regular 60' substitute for Miller. It's hard to decide if his failings come from a lack of ability or self-confidence, perhaps he just doesn't have the quality to be a Rangers player. New signing Michael O'Halloran may be the only other option to play down the middle for the next few months, but he's another one who's never consistently scored goals in his career. The former St. Johnstone player is best known for being a pacey winger - one of many at the Club currently. Though when compared to our other wing options we currently have, he's probably the only one capable of playing down the middle, and the responsibilities that come with that.
Echoing the manager's sentiments from earlier in the season, it seems likely that no one player will have to step up to the plate and become the "goal a game" striker Waghorn was. It's likely we'll see heavy rotation across the front three for the remainder of the season. I would expect Miller or Clark to start most games in the central role, with O'Halloran, McKay, King and Forrester taking turns on each wing. Presumably O'Halloran and McKay will take precedence for the right and left wing positions respectively. The biggest concern right now is the Scottish Cup. If we're to get past either Dundee or Dumbarton, Miller or Clark will have to give consistent performances, due to the Cup-tied O'Halloran and King being unavailable. This should allow the new signings to focus only on the League run-in, particularly if either one can become a regular starter over the next few weeks. If Rangers are to win the League, and progress in the Cup, the entire team is going to have to take on the burden of Waghorn's goals.