Steven Naismith would’ve been relatively pleased with his side’s opening half-hour perched on the Tynecastle touchline last night.

His Hearts side had created the game’s only big opening when James Tavernier was forced into a goalline clearance while their aggressive press was limiting the territory that the opposition occupied. After 28 minutes, the xG stood 0.47 to 0.07 in the hosts’ favour.

But Philippe Clement wasn’t wearing the posture of a man overtly concerned, confident a pre-arranged sucker-punch was just around the corner. Even if Rangers appeared too reliant on long passes that were handing over control and trading off any patient ploys up the pitch, their strategy would soon pay off when Abdallah Sima opened the scoring, in a move that stemmed from his side’s goal-kick.

“Abdallah made a good run, just like we practised,” Clement said analysing Sima’s opening and only goal at Tynecastle.

“It starts with his run and that’s also satisfying. We have, for the moment, not much time on the training pitch, one session before the game and you almost can’t do anything because it’s still a recovery day. We worked on this because we knew the pressing would be like this.”

It was a goal that demonstrated the solutions Clement is trying to find while time to flesh out ideas on the training pitch remains minimal. Simply put, the Ibrox side don’t yet have the tools or individuals to play through an aggressive man-for-man final third press like the one encountered last night. That’s why they’ve appeared direct in their build-up during other spells, such as the opening exchanges against Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

Take this example early on in last night's game. Leon Balogun has the ball after his side have regained ownership and ponders his options while John Lundstram rotates wide. The defender picks out Danilo, dropping to provide a central pass…

…However, like the rest of his teammates, Danilo is tightly marked. Notice the six-vs-six in this frame. The Brazilian forward plays backwards given a lack of alternative options and the risk associated with losing the ball in this position (and the absence of teammates in central areas to pick up the pieces).

Balogun is forced back to his goalkeeper and although the visitors have an extra man in their first line for a moment, left-wing back Alex Cochrane soon jumps up (bear this detail in mind) to pressurise Tavernier,

Eventually, with no short passing options, Butland plays long diagonally where Rangers have a two-vs-two with Sima and Danilo. But much like the rest of the opening 30 minutes, it's the home side who win the ball.

According to Clement, the away side “knew the pressing would be like this” - aggressive, man-for-man and attempting to force his team backwards and then long. Up until the half hour mark it was the home side who were winning the duels and restricting any midfield progression through the pitch.

But after 33 minutes, the move Rangers had rehearsed sealed the points and vindicated their direct approach.

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From a goal-kick, taken by Balogun to allow Butland to occupy the middle of the goals, the goalkeeper picks out Goldson who in turn finds Tavernier. Remember Cochrane jumping up from wing-back? He’s slightly slow on this occasion, presumably to block a pass into the winger initially, which allows the Rangers captain to turn, face forward and plot his pass.

Ross McCausland does well to return a tricky delivery, while Jose Cifuentes’ run pulls Beni Baningime away from the centre of the pitch. For the first time in the game, Rangers have broken through the Hearts high press and now have an opportunity to attack into space thanks to Tavernier’s excellent first touch.

The reverse angle can give us a better idea of what follows in this “practised move” from here.

Hearts do have a three-vs-four at the back but Nieuwenhof is forced to confront Tavernier, Danilo’s movement occupies the middle centre-back Stephen Kingsley with Todd Cantwell in the eye line of Kye Rowles on the left. This is how Sima will be able to make a ‘second forward’ run and benefit from the space fashioned in the centre.

 Look at his movement. The attacker initially starts really wide in the blindside of right wing-back Nat Atkinson, which presents the option of attacking behind or in front of him, making life more difficult for the defender.

As Tavernier breaks the line, Sima bursts ahead of Atkinson who can’t keep up with the on-loan Brighton forward. The curved run also evades the attention of Kingsley, preoccupied with the presence of Danilo, until Sima is well beyond Hearts’ No.3. The finish was typically clinical for a man who now has 12 goals over all competitions for the season.


Abdallah Sima's great goal has given Rangers a 1-0 lead against Hearts 🔽

It was a perfectly-timed curved run that showed exactly why Sima threatens when able to run into space, rather than create it. This was also a goal that showed the difficulties of playing through the middle, with only a perfectly-timed move creating Tavernier's passing chance, and the reason for keeping attackers high to maximise these moments.

Within this context, Clement’s post-match comments were revealing. The Belgian wants his side to be fast and vertical but they lack the press-resistant profiles to bait the press and play through pressing approaches like the one witnessed last night. With limited time on the training pitch, any solution heading East had to hold a dose of pragmatism.

What’s more, in Sima the Belgian has a target-man to hit from an angle which is complimented by Danilo’s movement off the front creating space to attack into. 

As shown by the game’s trendline, the visitors ought to have made life more comfortable following their opener when their chance creation numbers were well on top.

Danilo failed to score from an overall 0.76xG on the night as his dry spell in front of goal continued. His chance just before half-time, measuring up at 0.44xG, was only matched by Sima’s late 0.41xG effort that should’ve also sealed a greater margin of victory.

Cifuentes made a better impact from the bench after replacing Tom Lawrence early on. Despite less time on the pitch, the Ecuador international made more pressures (31), counterpressures (7) and tackles and interceptions (7) than any of his teammates.

When Clement’s former assistant Johan van Rumst spoke to the Rangers Review recently he said this about his former boss’ style: “The results have been very good, but I don't think he has a lot of time to see what he wants yet. Like one midfielder coming low to make a three, you want the full-back high, the winger inside, striker ball-side. I see how he wants to play. That takes time.”

Last night's win does not mean Clement’s side will not have to improve their methods against pressure, they absolutely do. That trade off for control arguably worked against Rangers during the early stages at Pittodrie, for example. 

However, until the January training camp affords uninterrupted time to flesh out those solutions and reinforcements arrive in the window, the Ibrox side must continue to work different solutions based on the profiles and circumstances available.