Kilmarnock fans have quickly had to come to terms with two, new aspects of their…
Graeme Murty seems to be under siege at Rangers at the moment. While most Scottish Premiership managers would have enjoyed the time off during the international break, the Ibrox coach has had to contend with constant speculation linking new managers to his current post.
Steve Clarke is the most recent rumour, while former manager and star striker, Ally McCoist, has gone as far as to suggest Murty’s job security hangs in the balance and depends entirely on how his side do against Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi finals in mid April.
Such drama and media talk all comes against the backdrop of Rangers fans growing ever-so-slightly restless with the concept of Murty sticking around for another season. The interim manager has done well, but those defeats to Celtic and Kilmarnock seem to have left huge doubts in the minds of even the manager’s most ardent fans.
Murty’s problem comes down to his defence. Or rather, the lack thereof a coherent and consistent back line that can ensure victories from one game to the next. Because although Rangers may be able to outscore most teams in the Premiership they still struggle to tally up the clean sheets.
When we look at Rangers’ attacking and defensive records within the context of the league as a whole this become all too apparent. The graph above shows each club with their goals scored per game and goals conceded per game since Murty took over at Rangers and the distance between the two figures.
As we can see, Rangers have gone on to bag the highest average amount of goals scored per game – beating Celtic’s record 1.9 to 1.75 – which in isolation is undoubtedly impressive. Yet when we look at the amount of goals they ship per game we can quickly see what the problem is.
Since Murty took charge at Ibrox his side have conceded an average of 1.143 goals per game. Which currently has the Govan side sitting fourth in the Premiership’s defensive league table behind both Hearts and Hibernian and only slightly ahead of Kilmarnock and Aberdeen.
Obviously, such recklessness in defence undermines the good work done further up the park and limits what this Rangers team can do. Which has become apparent when they come up against teams that can force Rangers on to the back foot, like Celtic, Hibs or Kilmarnock.
Indeed, it’ll come as no surprise to most Rangers fans to read that the team’s defensive record hasn’t improved at all under Murty and still sits at a similar level to what was achieved under Pedro Caixinha’s stewardship of the side.
When we take the amount of expected goals (xg) Rangers were expected to conceded in each league game so far this season and use it to gauge how many goal-scoring chances they give away we get a graph like the one above. With the red lines showing the individual values and the black line showing the average per game over time.
As we can see, despite some wildly varying figures in the xG against numbers – especially during Murty’s reign – the average has roughly stayed the same throughout the course of the season. Suggesting that despite bringing in Russell Martin and promoting David Bates, Murty’s defence is still as porous as it ever has been.
Although both Caixinha and Murty have had to contend with injuries to important, defensive players like Lee Wallace, Ross McCrorie, Bates and even midfielders like Ryan Jack that may offer cover for the back line, the club are still averaging inexcusable defensive stats. And it might end up costing Murty his job.
Ultimately, the priority for Murty will be making sure Rangers finish second in May. Although McCoist and others may suggest a head-to-head against Celtic in the Scottish Cup could prove fatal, it’s far more likely that the board will wait and see how the league campaign finishes. And again, this is where Murty’s porous defence may end up costing him and his side by getting in the way of their ambitions.
Naturally, Rangers’ defensive records against the smaller clubs is a point of contention for many fans but between now and the end of the season everything will come down to how well this back line can perform against the other teams in the top six.
Although Rangers have a pretty solid record against Hearts and Aberdeen this season, Hibs and Kilmarnock have proved a constant thorn in their side and could end up derailing any hopes of reclaiming second place.
As we can see from the graph above, Rangers are currently conceding an average of 1.33 goals every time they play Clarke’s side, while Neil Lennon’s team are scoring a massive average of 2 goals per game against the Ibrox side. And, unexpectedly, Celtic are averaging 1.67 goals every time they play Murty’s men.
Although fans may be hopeful of picking up maximum points against Aberdeen and Hearts, the coming clashes with Hibs and Kilmarnock could be very close. And with Derek McInnes’ side already breathing down Murty’s neck one thing seems to be sure: either the Rangers manager finds a way to stop conceding so many goals or he may lose his grasp on second place. And with that his job.