After Kilmarnock came away with a 1-1 draw with Rangers on Friday night ex-Rangers striker Kris Boyd questioned what has happened to Rangers’ midfield since the sides last met in last season’s Scottish Cup. Boyd doubted the change from a dynamic, high-energy midfield to a more laid-back, pragmatic trio who were much more willing to give their opponents time on the ball suited the Gers and felt that Mark Warburton’s midfield missed the energy brought by players like Jason Holt.
Injury has sidelined the 23-year-old since he was an unused substitute in the opening day draw with Hamilton. The midfielder sufferered an ankle injury in training although he is nearing fitness and should return to the first-team squad for the trip to Windsor Park to provide the opposition in Linfield midfielder Jamie Mulgrew’s testimonial.
After signing a three-year deal at Ibrox, Holt immediately went on to become one of Mark Warburton’s key midfielders. The former Hearts man won plaudits for his performances throughout the season and was tipped for a call-up to Gordon Strachan’s Scotland squad on a number of occasions. Holt’s constant energy proved to be vital to Rangers’ attack and the midfielder hit the net himself twelve times last season in forty-five appearances. Providing a link between midfield and attack Holt often went beyond the main striker, causing havoc in opposition defences, whilst constantly offering an out-ball for the holding midfielder.
Rangers’ style under Mark Warburton has been underpinned by the midfielders pressing when not in possession and Holt would regularly be found helping out the full-backs or central defence by tracking runners or trying to force to opposition into an error. Despite their undoubted quality, the midfield trios which have lined up so far in the league this season have been missing this and it has, arguably, been a big problem with the side’s style of play so far.
At 33 Joey Barton doesn’t have the legs to properly play that role at the intensity required. Barton is far more comfortable when allowed to sit deep and look to spray passes around. As we’ve seen too this season, he’s not exactly got a turn of pace and has regularly seen himself easily beaten in a race for the ball. Jordan Rossiter is a very similar type of player. Far more comfortable sitting just ahead of the central defenders and shielding them while always making himself available for a pass. On the games so far, it’s difficult to see both players being able to fit into Warburton’s preferred formation and it may end up with them being rotated as the season goes on. Barton’s not getting any younger and Rossiter should only continue to improve as he continues his development.
Andy Halliday is another who is similar to Barton, in that he prefers to sit deeper in midfield, and although he has done well so far this season it’s unlikely Halliday will start. Halliday’s versatility will see him remain a key member of the squad but he doesn’t offer the same mobility in midfield that Holt brings to the side. One of the main problems this season has been Rangers have been more than happy to play in-front of the opposition’s midfield and have, largely, lacked any penetration in the final third of the pitch. Halliday spent most of last season playing as the holding midfielder and he hasn’t really shown anything which would suggest he is a better option than Holt in a more advanced role.
Then there’s Niko Kranjcar and Harry Forrester. Both are the type of player who gets fans up off their seats and can provide a moment of magic capable of changing a game. Kranjcar, technically, is head and shoulders above anyone in Scotland. The way he controls the ball, passes it, and can always find that little bit of room is the sign of a genuinely quality player. Forrester is a little different from Kranjcar. Not quite as technically gifted, the Englishman isn’t shy to drive at an opposition defence to try create something however he can completely disappear from games at times and would be ideal to play just off the main striker (if we played in such a formation). Neither is suited to the central midfield role though.
With Rangers’ wingers more likely to come inside than take the full-back on down the outside both Kranjcar and Forrester would be better suited out wide. Kranjcar’s ability would allow him to drift inside and find pockets of space behind the defence and link with his team-mates. Forrester has the ability, and the pace, to be a little more flexible in how he could play wide and has shown already he has an eye for goal.
Once Holt is fully-fit again, he will offer a new dimension to Rangers play. Despite the less-than-impressive results so far the season, Warburton’s side aren’t a million miles away from turning their dominating performances into consistent results. This weekend’s testimonial game against Linfield will be a fantastic opportunity for Holt to build his fitness ahead of the Old Firm game on September 10th and his return could come at just the right time to give Rangers title challenge a shot in the arm.
Only time will tell if Holt is the answer in midfield but it’s hard to doubt that he is EXACTLY the type of player we’ve been crying out for.
Stay tuned to Got The Battle Fever On for more Rangers news by following us on Facebook: