Rangers' crushing win over Hamilton Accies shows they are capable of going the distance
As a reference point for the change of mentality Steven Gerrard has instilled in Rangers since the season began, this was perhaps the clearest indicator yet of why he now has a team capable of going the distance in the title race.
A focused and merciless 8-0 demolition of Hamilton Accies was in the sharpest possible contrast to the last time these sides met at Ibrox back in March.
On that evening, an imploding campaign reached a low point for Gerrard and Rangers when they lost 1-0 amid increasing scrutiny and scepticism of their ability to end Cetic’s unprecedented dominance of Scottish football.
Eight months on, there can be few who still doubt Gerrard has built a squad now fully equipped to finally tilt the balance of power back in Rangers’ favour. Doubles from Joe Aribo, Kemar Roofe and James Tavernier along with single strikes by Scott Arfield and Brandon Barker gave Gerrard the biggest win so far of his two-and-a-half year tenure as his team signed off ahead of the international break with a nine-point lead at the top of the Premiership.
Gerrard is The Tinkerman again
Successful rotation of Gerrard’s squad has been a key factor in Rangers’ impressive progress and momentum this season. He made five changes to his starting line-up here as he looked to ensure freshness and energy following the exertions of the 3-3 Europa League draw against Benfica in Lisbon on Thursday.
Jon McLaughlin replaced Allan McGregor in goal, the Scotland squad man making his first appearance since October 4. Filip Helander, culpable for two of the goals conceded at the Stadium of Light, dropped to the bench as Leon Balogun stepped into the back four.
Arfield came into midfield, while the front three was significantly shuffled with the inclusions of Roofe and Jermain Defoe. Glen Kamara and Alfredo Morelos were both among the substitutes, while 35-year-old Steven Davis – outstanding against Benfica – missed out altogether, perhaps with a nod towards the Northern Ireland captain’s assignment in Belfast on Thursday when he will lead his country in their Euro 2020 play-off final against Slovakia.
Ruthless and relentless
It duly proved to be another seamless transition from European to domestic duty for Rangers. Full of intent from the start, they effectively ended this as a contest with a three-goal blitz in a four-minute spell early in the first half which left Hamilton reeling.
The signs were ominous for the visitors from as early as the second minute when a fine reaction save from Ryan Fulton was required to turn over Connor Goldson’s effort from a Borna Barisic corner.
As they had been against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park seven days earlier, Rangers were happy to take a more direct approach at times as they looked to make an early breakthrough against Accies’ ultra-defensive set-up.
An excellent through ball from inside his own half from Goldson found Ryan Kent inside the Hamilton penalty area but the winger’s first touch let him down and he was unable to test Fulton with a clean strike.
It was one-way traffic, although when the inevitable opener arrived in the 16th minute the visitors were the architects of their own downfall.
An almost comical mix-up between defenders Ben Stirling and Hakeem Odoffin was pounced upon by Defoe whose clever reverse pass set Kent racing clear on the left. His cutback picked out Arfield who calmly steered home a simple finish from around 12 yards.
Two minutes later, Rangers doubled their lead. It was yet another assist from Tavernier as the right-back’s cross was met by a precise header from Roofe to steer the ball beyond the wrong-footed Fulton.
There was no indication of Rangers taking their foot off the pedal and it was 3-0 a minute later. Good build-up play from Kent and Arfield created the opening for Aribo whose shot nicked off both Scott McMann and Brian Easton on its way past Fulton.
This was now a major opportunity for Rangers to enhanced their goal difference and, after Kent forced a save from Fulton and Roofe saw a shot blocked by Odoffin, they added their fourth nine minutes before half-time
Another superb cross from Tavernier was gathered by Roofe and shuttled back into the path of Aribo who was again aided by a deflection, this time off Will Collar, as his shot looped over Fulton into the net.
Debut for Zungu and more of the same
Gerrard made two changes at the start of the second half, Calvin Bassey replacing Barisic while there was a debut for Bongani Zungu as he took over from Ryan Jack. The South African midfielder made a positive first impression, keeping it neat and simple in the middle of the park and helping Rangers maintain their attacking momentum.
The rout continued with a Roofe tap-in after a Defoe shot hit a post in the 54th minute, then substitute Brandon Barker made it 6-0 shortly after his arrival with a smart finish after a dynamic Bassey surge down the left.
It was then Tavernier’s turn to get in on the act as the captain took his impressive goal tally for the season to 12. His first came from the spot, after Odoffin fouled Defoe, before he smashed in the eighth from close range after a Roofe shot was saved. It was remarkable that Defoe was not among the scorers, although he hit a post again in the closing stages.
Rangers: McLaughlin, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Barisic (Bassey 46); Arfield (Itten 74), Jack (Zungu 46), Aribo (Hagi 70); Kent (Barker 58), Defoe, Roofe. Subs not used: McGregor, Helander, Kamara, Morelos.
Hamilton Accies: Fulton, Hodson, Stirling, Odoffin, Easton, McMann; Moyo, Collar, Callachan (Mimnaugh 73), Hughes (L.Smith 55); Ogkmpoe (Winter 55). Subs not used: Gourlay, Stanger, Martin, Johnson, C.Smith, Thomas.
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