Rangers aren’t conceding any goals and, honestly, there’s just no good reason to switch out keeper Jon McLaughlin with Allan McGregor returns
Have you guys been enjoying the football lately? I know I have. Watching Rangers go to town against the Lincoln Red Imps is almost enough to make you forget it’s still 2020, if not for the fact you could hear the players yelling at each other. The Light Blues were absolutely dominant against the Celtic-killing Gibraltar natives I promised I’d write an article and the well-oiled winning machine keeps on winning.
Careful observers may note another clean sheet for Steven Gerrard’s side. In 7 league games this season, Rangers have not shipped a single goal – March being the last time any team, at the time Bayer Leverkusen still equipped with Kai Havertz, would manage to breach our back line in any meaningful way. Rangers have become an absolute defensive powerhouse, while still playing attractive, attacking football. No Jose Mourinho bus parking here.
With this in mind, let me just step out to suggest it would be wrong, stupidly so, to think about replacing Jon McLaughlin between the sticks. McLaughlin came in at the start of the season for injured Rangers number 1 Allan McGregor and has done, well, about as good a job as he could possibly do.
The Gers are riding the wave of a historic run, never before done in Scottish top flight football, in terms of consecutive clean sheets. Surely, you would think, there can be no reason to consider changing a system that works so unbelievably well, even when McGregor comes back?
Now, OK, the stats do tell us that McLaughlin has had it easy. Rangers are conceding, on average, only 4 shots per game – the lowest in the Premiership with the next being Celtic at 7. No other team is coming close to controlling games like Gerrard’s side at the minute, that’s just a fact. For McLaughlin, he’s spending most of the game stretching, resting against the post and trying to keep perky, all the while watching the game as if he were a free spectator.
Further, Rangers also enjoy having the highest possession percentage in the league, again by a measure, at 65.3% on average. What this all means is that there precious few opportunities arising for our opponents to score and, ultimately, they aren’t able to. By limiting chances to 2 or 3 per game, you increase pressure on the other side to making said chances count, leading to errors and bad decision making.
So Jon may not actually be the best keeper in the league, or indeed, the best in Rangers either. That said, you can only do what you can do and beat who are put in front of you. Everything asked of the 33 year old he has accomplished and it’s hard to know exactly how much of an effect having McLaughlin in goal has impacted on the team as a whole.
A good keeper gives the team, particularly the back four, confidence it’s true, but distribution is just as important if not more so. It’s a small sample size, but McLaughlin’s 87% pass accuracy this season trumps anything McGregor has ever managed, the latter never managing a campaign in his professional history above 55%.
In any case, it’s a tough decision ahead for Stevie G, sooner or later – McGregor’s injury makes it all quite straight forward now, but he’ll return eventually and expect to walk straight back into his starting spot as number 1. Except, he really shouldn’t. Not just because McLaughlin’s been breaking records with consecutive clean sheets, not only because you shouldn’t mess with a winning team, but because it shows Gerrard is weak.
As our squad expands, it’s important for Rangers to establish the importance of performances over expectations, of form over name. There’s no good footballing reason to bench McLaughlin right now, so he shouldn’t be benched. Simple as that. While we all enjoy this purple patch in our season, it’s important to remember the players who made and make that possible – and give them every opportunity to continue to do so.