At the start of a seismic week, Rangers’ 2-0 win in Dingwall provided a happy beginning. While not emphatic and with creases still to iron, it was “a step forward from Kilmarnock” according to Michael Beale.

Two goals inside four minutes established a first-half lead that Rangers protected until full-time. Kemar Roofe scored from a corner on a first start since April 2022 before James Tavernier took aim after noticing Ross Laidlaw off his line from all of 20 yards with an effort that left Sam Lammers, and most of the watching crowd, with his head firmly placed in hands.

Fresh from a 2-2 draw with PSV, this away performance was far more cohesive and controlled than the season’s inaugural game in Ayrshire.

There were only two changes to the side that lost against Kilmarnock earlier this month, with Roofe replacing Abdallah Sima and Todd Cantwell in for Kieran Dowell, so what was different?

From set-piece success to a stronger balance at the top end of the pitch, a win in Dingwall showed things are starting to click for Beale.

Roofe’s goal allowed Rangers to "level up" at set-pieces having conceded off the back of one on Tuesday night. After Beale’s arrival late last November, the upturn in attacking set-pieces was immediate and sustained under the stewardship of Harry Watling. After only three league matches this campaign, Rangers are already averaging 0.66xG per 90 from set-pieces, the highest total in the league.

Set-pieces are important in any game but perhaps particularly in matches of Saturday's nature, where space is far from a guarantee, they can provide a route to open up a stuffy defence and increase the spaces attacking teams are able to play within. Following Roofe’s goal, the onus was placed on the hosts to be more aggressive, without a result to hold onto.

On a welcome return to the team, this goal was classic Roofe; as he pinned his marker and found a way to score out of nothing. The StatsBomb freezeframe not only indicates the quality of finish (with a 0.25xG chance becoming a 0.92PSxG goal) but the visitors isolating their No.25 at the back post, with dominant headers acting as a magnet at the front post.

On the opening day against Kilmarnock, Rangers created 0.64xG from set-pieces, only slightly lower than the 0.76xG fashioned in Dingwall. It wasn’t just the rub of this particular green that helped open the game, nor Tavernier’s superb solo effort which has become predictable over the years with that sentence's predictability. 

The profiles Beale selected and patterns the visitors attacked in successfully took advantage of Malky Mackay's defensive structure, earning the first corner and creating the first half’s other best moments. Take a look at Rangers’ pass network, charting the average passing position of each player, to demonstrate the tactical approach.

What is this map showing you?

  • Notice a tilt towards the right, with Tavernier higher than Borna Barisic. Rangers continued a recent trend of building play more frequently down the right, with the right-footed Todd Cantwell rotating into the left-back slot to provide infield angles at points.
  • John Lundstram, who enjoyed a good performance in a game more suited to his profile, protected the defence and at times moved into the right-back slot, as did Nico Raskin who also ran beyond the frontline.
  • Lammers played in the right-sided pockets while Roofe moved off of Cyriel Dessers from the left and Tavernier operated in his conventional role; providing width, moving inside at points and stretching the opposition defence.

In the opening exchanges in particular, the visitors regularly looked for diagonals on the right, as Lammers dropped into midfield and Tavernier ran beyond. The below pass network, charting Rangers’ successful passes ending in the final third in the first half, shows this differing pattern from left to right.

Why? Rangers often face a similar problem with varying specifics domestically - teams defending in a variety of defensive structures and only applying pressure reactively, rather than proactively. 

The thing is, pressure will come at points in every game and the task of the dominant team in scenarios like Saturday is to exploit this fact. It may be less consistent, with smaller spaces offered up, but at some point, a line of engagement will be triggered. The question for the attacking team is, can they fashion an extra man in the midfield and threaten at the edge of the box, or if a defender follows said player dropping deep, can they exploit the space vacated quicker than the opposition can recover it?

It was rotations on the right where Rangers either managed to get superior numbers in midfield, with Lammers dropping down a line, or expose the space left by County left-back George Harmon tracking the Dutchman into midfield through Tavernier and Raskin's forward runs.

Take this example just before the first goal. As Lammers drops into midfield, with Rangers moving the ball from left to right, his movement down the pitch coincides with Raskin and Tavernier moving up the pitch... 

...Harmon (No.16) drops with Lammers to try and prevent Rangers from creating an extra man in the midfield...

...Raskin and Tavernier combine to win a corner after Lammers turns and lifts the ball into the space he's just vacated.

A few moments later, a similar pattern played out to earn the corner from which Roofe would score. 

Lammers again drops down a line to face play just ahead of the County defence, with Harmon only half-committing to track the No.14. Giving Lammers time to again lift the ball over the top into Tavernier.

Rangers' line-up didn't feature much obvious pace to stretch the home defence in their front line but, specific to the defence faced which would defend aggressively into midfield rather than staying in a tight line, Beale’s selection boasted an array of strong runners in the next line to threaten the spaces vacated in moments where Lammers dropped to face play. What’s more, pace is only a useful asset in games played in these types of spaces if matched with speed of thought. It’s the formation of relationships, recognition of triggers and reactivity to opportunity that capitalises on small margins. Compared to the opening day, Rangers asked far more questions of the defence they faced in these moments. 

These rotations are fundamental to Beale’s football; allowing creators to face play, runners to go beyond and forcing opponents to defend different scenarios and angles. More than that, it’s the timing of these actions that actually creates openings and tests defences. It gives Rangers a head-start in certain moments and although not responsible for a goal in the Highlands, the fluency recognisable in moments was clear. 

Selection in the front three remains unpredictable, or perhaps specific to each game, but the spread of goals should provide encouragement. Rabbi Matondo ought to have squared the ball to Sima late on but that aside, his impact again continues to excite. Last time at this ground, Beale explained the Welshman was suffering from a "crisis of confidence" after a substitute appearance that underwhelmed. Now, Matondo looks full of what he lacked and his finish against PSV in midweek showed as much. The option of bringing on the pacey duo, to offer a transitional threat when games become stretched in the second half, is a useful weapon at Beale’s disposal.

Rangers also kept a clean sheet and conceded very little overall, just 0.46xG to be exact. Jack Butland commanded his areas and called crosses his own against a physical home strike force of Simon Murray and Jordan White.


This was by no means a complete performance and relationships still require fine-tuning in the final third to really capitalise on the spaces seen in Dingwall. However, with PSV and Celtic on the horizon, these three points offered a step forwards and better face in a style of game Beale's side will often face away from home this season.