Rangers will take a one-goal advantage into second-leg of this play-off tie having emerged 2-1 winners at Palmerston Park, and it was a very revealing match in terms of the Gers’ defensive set-up.
Steven Smith’s brilliant free-kick gave Stuart McCall’s men the lead just before half-time, but a defensive mix up allowed Derek Lyle to level the scores. Dean Shiels headed home from Richard Foster’s cross to give his side an important advantage heading into the return date.
Here we look at four things we learnt during the Rangers victory and what they need to do next week to secure a safe passage to the next round.
Rangers are better off without Lee McCulloch
An obvious statement for Rangers fans who have witnessed his performances of late, but Saturday evening's game proved just how much better the Light Blues are without their captain.
The reshuffle in the Rangers defence produced a much calmer back-line during this game. Marius Zaliukas played well at the centre of the three-man unit, while Lee Wallace and Darren McGregor marshalled their respective sides.
McCulloch’s presence brings a certain amount of uncertainty to proceedings and without the Rangers captain in the side, there was a drastic reduction in individual errors at the back, which allowed them to build from deep without fear of conceding.
Despite the improvements, some poor defending did allow Lyle to head in at the back post, proving that there are some still issues to be dealt with.
3-5-2 is better with Wallace at wing-back
Both Wallace and McGregor have been more effective in wing-back roles, with Wallace’s forward runs proving very dangerous against Hearts, and they could have caused QoS more damage in this game.
While Smith contributed a fantastic free-kick and Foster a tempting lofted cross for Shiels’ goal, they didn’t provide the same attacking intent or defensive cover as Wallace and McGregor.
With the lack of options in the centre-back area, McCall doesn’t have the luxury of options due to injuries to McCulloch and Bilel Mohsni.
Rangers need a replacement for Haris Vuckic
The Light Blues didn’t display a lot of creativity throughout the 90 minutes, with only Vuckic showing any intent when he received the ball.
Playing in a striking role didn’t bring out the best in Vuckic, who is more suited to cutting in from the flanks and firing shots across the goalkeeper. He’s still a prominent part of the Gers attack playing up beside Kenny Miller, but could be of more use if the formation was adjusted.
Rangers need another big performance at Ibrox
McCall’s side didn’t put on their best display but they were disciplined and made it difficult for QoS to cut through them, barring a few dodgy set-pieces. There is still the potential for an upset in the second-leg and Rangers need another big performance – especially at the back – if they are to progress to the next round against Hibernian.