LAST season, Rangers conceded 13 goals on their way to the Premiership title.

Already this season they have conceded 11 goals. Yes, the team’s attack isn’t quite as potent as it was before, but it clearly isn’t the only reason for the slight downturn in form.

The Champions remain top of the table, four points clear of Celtic, and a 6-1 rout of Motherwell offered further indication that Steven Gerrard is finding new ways to get his team scoring like they were in 2020/21. Yet, buried in among those six finishes, including a Fashion Sakala hat-trick, there was yet another goal conceded from a set-piece.

It’s a worrying trend that has emerged over the last few weeks. Motherwell, like Aberdeen and Hearts before them, were able to score against Rangers from a corner kick. All in all, Gerrard’s side have now let in four goals from corners or free-kicks (directly or in the second phase after an initial clearance).

The set-piece problem in numbers

Let’s firstly set the scene using data.

Last season in the Premiership, 15.4% of the goals Rangers conceded originated from set-pieces. This season, that is up to 36.4%.

Last season, just 0.9% of the corners and free-kicks Rangers faced led to a goal. This season, that is up to 5.8%.

Two of these goals were decisive, i.e. they led to points dropped. Scott Brown’s header from a corner helped Aberdeen to a draw at Ibrox, and Craig Halkett did the same for Hearts.

All in all, that’s four points thrown away because the team didn’t defend well enough from the corner kick. The gap to Celtic is four points, but it so easily could be eight.

The problem has been evident in Europe, too. Sparta Prague beat Rangers 1-0 thanks to a header from a corner. An in-swinging cross was whipped in towards the front post, Steven Davis wasn’t tall enough to intercept it, and Calvin Bassey was beaten to the header by David Hancko. As things stand, that goal is what separates Rangers from a top-two position in their Europa League group.

Defending from set-pieces is a subtle but extremely important detail. The best game plan can be undone by one poor piece of marking or a disadvantageous one-versus-one at the front post. Gerrard's side have felt the effects of this domestically and in Europe, and the data should provide some cause for concern.

READ MORE: How Joe Aribo's 'immeasurable' Rangers set-piece role has created three goals this season - analysis

Rangers are actually now conceding fewer corners per 90 minutes in the Premiership – 3.25 this season compared to 3.47 last. But the percentage of corners they concede leading to shots at goal has increased by one per cent. And more of those shots are going in the back of the net.

Why are those goals going in?

To go beyond the raw data, we need to watch some video to see exactly why more goals are being conceded from corners and free-kicks this season. Is it individual errors, poor organisation, clever routines, or a mixture of all three?


Hearts had four corner kicks at Ibrox on October 16. Their third, taken from the right-hand side, saw Halkett drift away towards the back post to get isolated one-versus-one with James Tavernier. He was able to re-direct the ball back into the six-yard box, where Rangers cleared.

The same thing happened five minutes later. A cross came in and Halkett peeled off to the back post.

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However, on this occasion, Allan McGregor decided to come off his line, misjudged the ball flight, and failed to punch clear. The ball went over him, and Tavernier was left with a one-versus-two situation. Halkett was left free to head home.

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Two weeks later, Aberdeen used a fairly simple routine to evade Rangers’ marking and work a clear header from their first corner kick of the game.

They set up with four runners in the box.

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But two runners separated from the pack to attack the front post area.

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That left Tavernier and Connor Goldson in a two-versus-two at the back post area. Scott Brown and Christian Ramirez swapped over. Tavernier was too slow to react, lost his man, and Brown was free to head home.

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Like Aberdeen, Motherwell scored with their first corner kick of the game. This was mainly down to disorganisation in Rangers’ defence.

READ MORE: Why Fashion Sakala's 90-minute Rangers explosion proves he can offer Steven Gerrard his next evolution

Motherwell set up with two runners to attack the penalty box in Jordan Roberts and Sondre Johansen. Rangers, for whatever reason, were not prepared for this.

Leon Balogun and Scott Arfield can be seen communicating frantically for Tavernier to join in marking one of the runners, so that Arfield can cover the threat outside the box.

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Tavernier takes over from Arfield and joins Balogun in marking, but he’s late. By the time he is alongside Balogun, the corner has been taken and the pair nearly get in each other’s way as Motherwell’s runners cross over.

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The routine is fairly simple, but Rangers’ delay in setting up leads to Balogun being nowhere near Johansen when he checks his run and comes back inside.

Johansen can get a header off, which McGregor saves. But in the image below we also see how Bevis Mugabi has gotten goal-side of Goldson. Unsurprisingly, Mugabi beats Goldson to the rebound and scores.

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Individual errors from the likes of McGregor and Tavernier have cost Rangers dearly, but there has also been some disorganisation in the preparation for these corners. It’s difficult to say whether this is an individual or team issue.

However, what is obvious is that these goals conceded are entirely preventable. The deliveries and routines are fairly standard – the league leaders just aren’t dealing with them properly.

The absence of Filip Helander to injury is noteworthy. It may not be a coincidence that defending corners has developed into a serious issue while one of the team’s best aerial defenders has been out. Nonetheless, with Goldson and Balogun in there, Rangers should still have enough to handle what’s thrown at them.

Last season, Celtic got nowhere close in the title race. There were many factors behind that, one being the quality of Rangers’ performances. But failure to defend set-pieces was another.

Of all the goals Celtic conceded last season, 44.8 per cent originated from set-pieces. Gerrard's men were one of the teams to take full advantage of this weakness. Of the eight league goals Gerrard’s side scored against their rivals, five came from corners or free kicks.

All in all, the goals Celtic conceded from set-pieces accounted for 19 points dropped. That was enough to make a serious title challenge impossible. There is no further evidence needed to underline just how crucial it is that Gerrard and his players sort out this problem, and sort it out quickly.

Of course, set-pieces aren’t the only aspect of the team’s defence that has been exploited of late. However, it is probably the easiest defensive area to work on and solidify in the middle of a season.

When there’s a dead ball, Rangers need to liven up.