Matt McKay's struggle to get into Rangers team have casts doubt over the wisdom of his move
Matt McKay's struggles to get into the Rangers first team have casts doubts over the wisdom of his move to the Scottish champions but one thing's for sure - he is not lacking the quality to be an asset to the club.
It was hoped that McKay's move to Glasgow would help him cement his place in the Socceroos and continue his development. Five months later it does not appear that things are working out that way. Having made just three appearances McKay has been unable to get close to the match day squad in recent months. When he first arrived in August last year Rangers were flying at the top of the SPL and it seemed logical that McKay would have to wait for his chance. When his chance did come he proved he was capable with a lively cameo off the bench against Dundee United before his starting debut at Ibrox where he set up a goal with a pinpoint cross for Nikica Jelavic to score.
Despite these encouraging performances Rangers boss Ally McCoist has frozen the Socceroo out of the first team. The reason for McCoist's decision is not obvious, having thrown away a 15 point lead in the SPL to now trail Celtic, Rangers have been struggling for results and the form of his teammates has not been responsible for his absence. The weekend's 2-0 loss to Dundee United at Ibrox in the Scottish Cup means they are now out of all cup competitions and will need a huge improvement to overhaul Celtic in the SPL title race.
The loss to Dundee highlighted the lack of options available to McCoist with centre back Sasa Papac playing at left midfield, where McKay was earmarked to be used. Whilst Papac does regularly play full-back his use ahead of McKay at left midfield must have disappointed the former Brisbane Roar man. Just as disappointing would have been the knowledge that he could have contributed much to the match. Rangers struggled to break down the well organised United defence, who were content to sit deep and hit on the break. With the exception of Sone Aluko Rangers showed no real threat and were content on shelling crosses into the box at every opportunity. With top scorer Jelavic now gone and Steven Naismith injured Rangers have no real threat in the air and Dundee dealt easily with balls into the box. Perhaps most worrying was that despite having little success with such a tactic, Rangers persisted with it.
What was needed was the type of player like McKay, one to keep possession be patient and draw Dundee out. This would have played to the strengths of Rangers' attackers David Healy and Aluko, who are both much more comfortable with the ball on the deck than in the air. After the match McCoist spoke of the effort his players put in and made note of the many balls they managed to get into the box. They may have got balls into the box but if McCoist believes this equals attacking threat he is mistaken.
This perhaps gets to the heart of why McKay has not been playing. He is a wholehearted player and is not one to shirk the physical nature of Scottish football but his strength is keeping possession. He will not dribble and get crosses into the box whenever he gets the chance, which is what McCoist seems to be instructing his players to do despite their lack of success in doing so. Rather he will look to pass to create chances for attackers which could be successful for Rangers. I do not prescribe to the theory that this cannot work in the SPL and that direct football is the only way. Most defenders in Scotland are very capable in the air but can be exposed by intelligent movement and passing as few are overly quick. St Mirren and Kilmarnock have both demonstrated the benefits of a possession based game this season.
It is also obvious from Rangers style of play that they do not have the same philosophy as Brisbane Roar, which saw McKay play some outstanding football. When my club Arbroath played Rangers in the Scottish Cup the shouts of McCoist to his defenders to "do it", code for get it in the channels, were common. This will not get the best out of McKay who no doubt would have become accustomed to a possession based game.
With the transfer window still open in Australia McKay may leave Rangers before the end of the season and if this happens his stint in Glasgow would not have lived up to expectations. However, it is not just McKay who would have missed an opportunity. Rangers need players to spark their season back to life and he has the ability to help salvage what is increasingly looking like a disastrous season for the club and a frustrating one for the Socceroo.
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