Rangers have been rejuvenated in recent months, first by the appointment of Graeme Murty, then by the signature of several key players in the January transfer window. Now, after a start to the season defined by inconsistency, there appears to be a clear and effective style in place at Ibrox.
Murty has settled on a 4-2-3-1 system of late. Within the shape, both full-backs attack their flanks and provide overlapping or underlapping runs, while the midfield double pivot supports build-up and the wingers often cut inside.
The tactical shift has worked, something evidenced by the fact Rangers have won seven and lost just one of their last nine Scottish Premiership games, moving them clear of Aberdeen and closer to Celtic atop the league table. And the January additions have been integral to the improved performances.
Here, Football Whispers assesses how the five signings have settled in at Rangers.
Since the Scottish Premiership returned in late January, Rangers have averaged just over 2.5 goals per game. Without knowing otherwise, most would quite reasonably assume Cummings to have played a vital part in that record. However, in reality the 22-year-old striker has found regular game time hard to come by.
He was arguably the most exciting signing of the mid-season window for the club. Having hit double figures in each of his three seasons at Scottish Championship level with Hibernian, he was a respected force domestically before leaving for Nottingham Forest last summer. But his path to the first team at Ibrox has been blocked by Alfredo Morelos.
Of Cummings’ nine appearances for Rangers, only three have been starts. And, of those three starts, only one has come in the league. Despite scoring and assisting two goals apiece, he has been unable to dislodge the bullish Morelos atop Murty’s 4-2-3-1 system.
The Scotsman is on loan until the end of the campaign and, considering the tactical situation, he will have to impress in every 20-minute cameo that comes his way. If he does, he may eventually force his manager to rethink his preferred shape, as well as set up the possibility for a permanent summer switch.
Central midfield didn’t appear to be a problem area for Murty prior to the signing of Docherty from Hamilton Academical. While Graham Dorrans and Ryan Jack remained out injured, Jason Holt had found his best form to nail down a starting berth, and Sean Goss had showed glimpses of real class.
Nonetheless, Rangers were persistent in their pursuit of Docherty, eventually completing his signature for a reasonable fee of under £1million. And, in recent weeks, the 21-year-old has demonstrated precisely why the club were so keen to acquire his services.
He has formed a sound understanding with Goss in the absence of Holt, who through no fault of his own may now find himself back on the substitutes’ bench. The new signing has brought an injection of energy to central midfield, his vim and vigour adding a new element in an area not short on technical quality.
In seven outings, Docherty has only recorded one assist. But that one assist was stunning – he almost single-handedly broke down St. Johnstone’s defence, performing a one-two with Daniel Candeias before finding the run of Josh Windass, who finished off the move.
Goss has yet to break sweat since moving to the Scottish Premiership, adjusting to his new environment with ease. Since joining on loan he has established himself as Rangers’ midfield dictator, picking up from the defence and spreading the play accurately with his refined left foot.
Having shown flashes of his quality in the mid-season Florida Cup friendlies, the 22-year-old former Manchester United youth has only grown in confidence since. His composure and control of the ball has improved Rangers’ possession significantly, while his range and vision means he is a regular source of beautifully weighted passes.
In eight appearances, Goss has registered two goals and one assist. From a deep-lying role, those are strong numbers. However, it’s the subtler aspects of his game that his current boss most appreciates. “Goss brings stability to the side,” Murty said. “He has a lovely range of passing, and he’s always willing to take the ball. I think Sean’s added…control to our play.”
Bruno Alves has endured an underwhelming maiden campaign in Scottish football, with injuries blighting him throughout. In his absence, Rangers desperately needed an experienced head at the back, and Martin has provided that since arriving on loan from Norwich City.
The 32-year-old has operated in the English Premier League before and has 29 caps for Scotland, enabling him to compete against some of the finest attackers domestically and on the continent. Alongside younger talents such as Ross McCrorie, David Bates, his years of playing at the highest level have been invaluable.
While Martin has occasionally misplaced passes, including one that led to a goal in the chaotic 5-3 away win over Hamilton, he has been solid defensively. His maturity may come in particularly handy for the upcoming Old Firm derby.
Murphy has brought a new dimension to Rangers’ play since signing on loan, meaning fans will be delighted when he joins permanently in the summer window. The former Motherwell winger’s precise dribbling and deft touch have led to goals and assists – in nine outings so far, he has three of each.
Murty has deployed the 28-year-old on the left-hand side of his 4-2-3-1 system, though the player’s role is anything but fixed. He may take up the nominal left wing berth, but he regularly drifts deep and infield in order to connect attacks, link up with team-mates and drive at defences.
His combination with Declan John down the left has real potential to be one of the most devastating winger/full-back partnerships Rangers have had in years. When Murphy cuts in, the Welsh left-back devours the touchline with his pace.