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Things were looking positive for Rangers. The opening weekend win over Motherwell appeared to have given the Ibrox side a platform to build upon, with the momentum carrying over into the early exchanges of last week’s home curtain-raiser against Hibernian.
Summer signing Alfredo Morales gave Pedro Caixinha’s side the lead after just three minutes, but that was about as good as it got for the hosts. The dynamic of the match hinged on the sending off of Ryan Jack ten minutes before the half-time break, with the midfielder shown red after a tussle with Anthony Stokes.
The Scottish football news agenda has been dominated this week by the fallout from that decision, with the red card shown to Jack ultimately rescinded. The former Aberdeen captain will be available to Caixinha for this weekend’s clash against Hearts, although that hasn’t stopped the Portuguese aiming a barb at referee John Beaton for his initial decision.
“We will take a bad refereeing decision in training to make them understand that things are going in that direction and might happen,” he said this week as he previewed the match against the capital side. “For my players, I can try to get them to control the emotional balance, but I cannot control what the other players from the opposition teams are doing. I can just control mine.
“I hope that mine have that focus because one of the points we have definitely is to finish all the matches with 11. just need to understand what is going on and what type of opponent we are going to face and what type of behaviours might come from that opponent. It's something we analyse and speak to our players about. We look at the way they play and the way they behave in order for us to be ready.”
While Jack will be available for selection this week, his dismissal demonstrated how Rangers are short of depth in the centre of the pitch. Jack has quickly sparked up a relationship with another summer signing Graham Dorrans in central midfield, but beyond that Caixinha is badly lacking in the way of options.
Carlos Peña was introduced off the bench against Hibs, but the playmaker did little to suggest he can operate as an orthodox central midfielder. He might adapt to the Scottish game in time, but so far the former Guadalajara player is lacking a clear role at Ibrox. The same certainly isn’t true of Jack, upon whose shoulders is weighted a lot of responsibility.
Indeed, Jack and Dorrans already appear to be the face of Caixinha’s Rangers side. The two players epitomise the character of the Ibrox outfit, with Dorrans in particular a real asset, as he demonstrated in the opening weekend win over Motherwell with a game-winning double.
His goals from midfield will be crucial if Rangers are to in any way close the gap on Celtic at the top of the Scottish Premiership, leapfrogging Aberdeen into second place.
In hindsight, the sending off of Jack against Hibernian might work to Rangers’ advantage. Sure, it played a significant part in a defeat to a rival for that second spot in the Scottish Premiership table, but it offered Caixinha an insight into just how reliant his side has become on the 25-year-old.
The Portuguese has surely, as a result, spent the last week pondering a plan B, an option that could deputise for Jack should he be made unavailable for any great length of time. That might require a tactical shift or another dip into the transfer market before the window shuts at the end of the month, but at least this concept has been planted in the mind of Caixinha.
Of course, his primary objective right now is to come up with a plan A, never mind a plan B, that works. On that front, Caixinha has made progress since Rangers’ humiliating Europa League qualification exit to part-time Proges Niederkorn.
Even in the defeat to Hibs, there was enough to suggest there is a lot more about the Ibrox side now than there was just a few weeks ago.
Saturday’s home match against Hearts provides something of a litmus test for Caixinha and his players.
The Edinburgh side are in a state of flux following the dismissal of manager Ian Cathro, with a permanent replacement still to be named. If Rangers can’t see them off at home, questions will be asked.
However, there’s no reason to believe the Govan side won’t pick up three points to pick up where they left off against Motherwell a fortnight ago. Jack will be in the line-up, but even if he isn’t, for whatever reason, Rangers will be better placed to cope without him. Or at least, that’s the theory.