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Match Preview - Rangers vs Morton (19th August)


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Rangers v Morton – Match Preview 

by Russell Gordon 

This weekend sees undoubtedly Morton’s stiffest test of the season so far, as they make the short trip down the M8 to face Premiership giants, Rangers. Whilst the tie provides a welcome boost to Dougie Imrie’s budget as the closure of the transfer window fast approaches, he’ll be under no illusions as to the size of the task Morton are facing. It should also be noted that the SPFL has a similar policy to the SFA of applying different rules in some matches as it does to others in the same round of their competition, so VAR will be used in Saturday’s match. After Morton’s experiences last season at Celtic Park, one might expect those of a Morton persuasion to look sceptically on such a development, but last weekend’s David Munro Show could change some views on that! 

The 12.30 kick-off is being broadcast live by the tournament sponsors, and unfortunately, away end tickets are no longer available, with sales having closed on Thursday evening. 

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Photo - GBR Photographs.

Squad News 

Although I suspect that Ryan Mullen and Grant Gillespie’s places on the bench at Kirkcaldy last weekend were taken without the intention of being used, they are at least a bit further down the line to regaining full fitness. 

Jack Baird however, will still be missing with his shoulder injury, and Jai Quitongo could face a race against time having been forced off just before the break in last Saturday’s bruising encounter against Raith Rovers. 

Also missing will be Steven Boyd, who sits out through suspension having collected bookings against Kelty Hearts and Edinburgh City in the group stages of the tournament. 

What will be most concerning for the travelling fans though, is the rumours of interest from a number of Premiership and EFL clubs in Morton’s talismanic midfielder, Robbie Crawford. Whilst Crawford’s exceptional form makes interest from elsewhere inevitable, there won’t be any Morton fans welcoming any bids for the ‘Ton’s star man. 

On a positive note, Imrie strengthened his squad this week with the addition of Iain Wilson, a familiar face from his previous spell at Morton, who comes in on a season long loan from Queen of the South. Although Wilson has struggled with injuries this term, he could well slot into the midfield, allowing Cammy Blues to fill the problem right back position. 

Current Connections  

There aren’t too many links between the two playing squads, with only Kirk Broadfoot having plied his trade at Ibrox after signing a pre-contract agreement in March 2007 and joining up that summer from St. Mirren. It’s fair to say he enjoyed a number of ups and downs in that time, collecting three SPL titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and a League Cup winner’s medal in 2008.  He also started in Rangers’ 2008 UEFA Cup Final defeat by Russian cracks Zenit St. Petersburg in Manchester, but was dropped for the following week’s Scottish Cup Final victory over Queen of the South. 

As Rangers spiralled into administration and ultimately liquidation in 2012, Broadfoot initially stuck around Ibrox as they began “the journey” but with his international ambitions hindered by Rangers’ lowly status at the time, he moved on to Blackpool. 

In the Rangers ranks, reserve goalkeeper Robby McCrorie had a short loan spell at Cappielow late in the 2018-19 season under Jonatan Johansson. McCrorie made fifteen appearances for the ‘Ton, notably keeping a clean sheet as they won 2-0 on that fantastic day in Grangemouth, to give Falkirk (remember them?) a bit more than a wee nudge towards League One. Another former Morton loanee, Joash McPake, is back at Ibrox after last season’s loan spell at Queen’s Park, but having played in their B Team’s SPFL Trust Trophy win at Stenhousemuir in midweek, I’d imagine he will be far enough down the pecking order so as not to threaten an appearance on the hosts’ bench. 

Tale of the Tape  

Morton’s last League Cup visit to Ibrox came exactly 28 years to the day since Saturday’s forthcoming meeting. Back in 1995, Allan McGraw’s newly crowned Second Division Champions travelled to a face a star-studded Rangers side who were at that stage beginning the quest for the eighth of their nine titles in a row. 

Whilst a fine Morton side put up a credible show against what was clearly the best team in the land at the time, a look at Rangers’ goal scorers on the day just shows the task Morton faced. Goals from Ally McCoist, Mark Hateley and Paul Gascoigne gave the hosts a comfortable 3-0 win. 

In recent times, however, Morton have fared better in Govan, but have ultimately fell just short of recording a memorable result. When the clubs shared a division in 2015-16, Morton overturned a 0-1 deficit to lead 2-1 late in the game through a James Tavernier own goal and a delightful Stefan McCluskey finish, only for Martyn Waghorn to rescue a point for the hosts. The 1-3 defeat at Ibrox later that season wasn’t quite so memorable for the Cappielow faithful, whilst Morton fell 0-4 and 0-2 at Cappielow. 

The most recent meeting between the teams was in a Scottish Cup tie 2017. Facing a Rangers team in turmoil amidst the sacking of manager Mark Warburton, Jim Duffy’s side took an early lead through Michael Tidser, only to be pegged back by Kenny Miller, before Waghorn settled the affair on the hour. Were it not for poor finishing, Morton may have sneaked a replay, but the match could be viewed as very much a missed opportunity. 

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Photo - GBR Photographs.

Opposition Analysis  

I won’t go too much into analysing our opponents, as having looked around without much luck for a Rangers fan to give us their insight, two came along at once who were more than happy to provide their thoughts on Saturday’s match. 

Whilst there’s clearly been a massive overhaul at Ibrox over the summer, question marks still arise in how prepared they are to achieve their goals for the season. An opening day loss at Kilmarnock didn’t bode well for the Ibrox men’s title challenge, with they and Celtic unlikely to drop too many points outwith their derby meetings, and Rangers already facing a three-point handicap from the off. However, Tuesday’s draw in Geneva against Servette has eased them through to the play-off round of the Champions League, where they face Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven in Tuesday coming’s first leg at Ibrox, before travelling to the Netherlands next week.. 

Ahead of the match I spoke to Rangers fan Kai Watson, owner of The Rangers Journal (@RangersJournal), who provided his thoughts on his side going into the match: 

“Rangers’ season hasn’t started as many fans had anticipated. With the amount of money invested and new players arriving, losing on the first day of the season was unfathomable to some. Then it happened, a massive reality check at the beginning of the squad rebuild. 

Since that loss, Rangers impressed for the first half hour of the first leg of the Servette tie, struggling in the final sixty minutes and recording an uncomfortable 2-1 win over ten men, before struggling in the first half of the second leg in Switzerland and putting in an improved second half showing to progress. 

Against Livingston at the weekend though, Rangers were at it. Naturally they had more of the ball and created more chances than in the outings against Kilmarnock and Servette. Four new players registering their first goals for the club and Jose Cifuentes making his first start made for a satisfactory afternoon. 

It’s hard to predict what the line up will look like against Morton, though. With the greatest respect, there may be mass squad rotation to get minutes in the legs of some of the fringe players. 

What can Morton expect of Rangers though? Michael Beale’s ideology is to play on the front foot. His team will look to press high and force defenders into mistakes. 

Then on the ball, he’ll be looking for short, sharp exchanges of play to draw out defenders and create spaces in behind. I would imagine the likes of Matondo and Sima will get a chance to prove themselves, meaning there’ll be a lot of pace up top. 

Expect Rangers to dominate the ball and come at you in waves, potentially with relentless crosses if there is no space through the middle. The full backs have been providing the majority of Rangers’ width this season- whilst it hasn’t been overly effective, it has caused some problems in the last couple of games. 

I expect Rangers to come out of the traps quickly, as happened in their previous two home games. Morton will have to be wary of Rangers coming out all guns blazing if they hope to achieve a positive result.” 

Donald McLeod, who is currently in the process of penning a biography of former Morton and Rangers hero Kai Johnansen, was also naturally confident of his team’s chances of progression in Saturday’s tie, and looking forward to welcoming back an old hero: 

“Rangers welcome Dougie Imrie’s visitors along the M8 to Ibrox, with a particularly warm welcome being extended to one of the stars of our UEFA Cup Final in 2008, Kirk Broadfoot, who spent five seasons with the light blues. On top of all the silverware he won, he’ll always be remembered for winning THAT penalty at Celtic Park. It’s great to see him continuing to play at almost 40, and I wish him and his Morton teammates all the best in the Championship this season. 

After the worst possible start, defeat to a Kilmarnock side managed by Derek McInnes- formerly of Morton and Rangers- we have kick started our season with a comfortable win over Livingston and by squeezing past Servette in the Champions League. With so many new players in the squad, it will undoubtedly take time for the team to settle. The departures of Kent and Sakala have left us playing narrower than Sauchiehall Lane, heavily relying on Barasic and Tavernier pushing forward to offer some width. Our four new forwards- Danilo, Dessers, Lammers and Sima- have all hit the target already this season, and it will be interesting to see which of them turn out this Saturday, given the upcoming PSV game. In the nets, Butland looks to be a cracking signing, and a very safe pair of hands. 

Centre midfield is often where games are won and lost, and we’ve been packed tighter than Alfredo Morelos’ fridge, with Beale picking at least three from Cantwell, Raskin, Jack, Lundstrum and new signings Jose Cifuentes and Kieron Dowell, who scored a peach against Livi. 

The Morton game should provide an opportunity for guys who didn’t feature against Servette, so we may see Ianis Hagi, Rabbi Matondo, and Glen Kamara come in for their first starts of the season. It would be nice to see some of the younger lads too, perhaps King, Devine and Lyall, who all made the bench in the Champions League. After a tough battle with Partick in the Scottish Cup last season, Rangers will not underestimate Morton, but I’d expect the home team to run out winners on Saturday.” 

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Photo - GBR Photographs.

What’s Happening Elsewhere? 

The first tie of the round takes place on Friday night as Barry Robson’s Aberdeen face the tournament’s shock troops, League Two Champions Stirling Albion. 

There are two all Premiership ties, as the Motherwell fans will have to ensure their inoculations are all up to date ahead of the trip to Paisley, whilst on Sunday, in the other TV game that Viaplay unexpectedly selected, Celtic visit Rugby Park to play a Kilmarnock team who will be looking to do an Old Firm double. 

Ayr United and Airdrie will be hoping to spring surprises at Livingston and at home to Ross County respectively. 

Also on Sunday, Edinburgh plays host to two ties, as Hibernian will host Raith Rovers, and Hearts will have to content with the visit of Partick Thistle and their fans trying to chum up with them as they bemoan perceived mutual historic injustices. 

Betting Guide  

All odds are supplied by McBookie. All odds correct as of 7am on 18th August 2023 and are subject to change. Please only bet within your means and visit BeGambleAware if you are struggling.  

It should come as no surprise that the hosts are overwhelming favourites heading into the match, priced at 1/12, with Morton registering at 22/1 and the draw at 7/1. 

Never one to look on the negative side regardless of how much we’re up against it, Morton to sneak a 1-0 win is 40/1 and Robbie Crawford to extend his sensational run of form by scoring the final goal of the game is 45/1. 

When Morton win 1-0 with a Crawford goal, mine’s a pint of Tennent’s, please and thank you. 

Match Officials  

Referee- David Dickinson 

AR 1- Calum Spence 

AR 2- Gordon Crawford 

Fourth Official- Grant Irvine 

VAR- Gavin Duncan 

AVAR- Graeme Stewart 

 

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