HE’S BACK! Our resident critic has shaken off the summer cobwebs and is ready once more to give some individual player insight.
Rangers v St Mirren
Respected by other teams, players and the media, and yet stayed a free agent for most of this summer. Plays the number 10 position, always has his head up, excellent technique and passing accuracy; barely seems to score or provide assists. Jason Holt: football paradox.
It was for this reason and this reason only that I was drawn to his name when the team sheets from Ibrox were first released to the wider world on Friday night. New season, new beginnings, and even a new club. Was it going to be the same player that kept onlookers guessing in a maroon jersey? Or was he going to find himself a niche in Mark Warburton’s system and become the dominant attacking player many think he should be already?
In all honesty, I’m still waiting for my answer, though I kind of expected that going in. His touch is as sharp as ever, he works hard both on and off the ball (with his side both in and out of possession) and he showed ways he can be effective. (He always showed ways he could be ineffective, but we’ll get to that later).
Displaying his willingness to work hard even without the ball, Holt’s first touch was a block on the edge of the St Mirren penalty area after he hungrily chased down the defender. By this point Rangers were already a goal up. The hosts were thoroughly in control of the match, calmly rolling the ball around in the opposition half, patiently probing St Mirren as they looked for an opening. At first I’d misinterpreted Holt’s role as that of the attacking central midfielder. I suppose he could still have been classified as such, but he had central support in the form of Nicky Law as the Rangers system looked more 4-1-4-1 than the 4-2-3-1 advertised. The two were tasked with getting beyond striker Martin Waghorn, who liked to drop deep and link play. The presence of two such players allowed both to have more freedom, and Holt was able to do as he normally likes, which is drop very deep and offer to take possession from the more defensive minded players.
I have to say, I liked Holt in this system. When he’s the lone No.10 his predilection for valuing possession over attempting to dribble round an opponent, attempt a tricky through ball or have a shot at goal can sometimes be a weakness. This can rob the team of a consistent creative input. With support he was able to play his own game without it being detrimental to the attack and Waghorn wasn’t isolated despite Holt’s wandering.
He still showed a hesitancy to take chances in the final third and on one occasion he opted not to turn towards goal when his marker sagged off him, instead immediately returning the ball from whence it came. This opened up a passing angle, but meant he was too far away from the penalty box to support. However, his assist for the second goal demonstrated that he’s growing as an attacker and it may not be long before this type of match winning output is a regular occurrence.
What was particularly impressive about his pass for Wallace’s second goal, other than how perfectly weighted it was for the full-back to run onto, was the vision he displayed in splitting the defence. One of the camera angles showed how Holt neither looked at the St Mirren backline to his right, nor Wallace advancing across his line of sight. He used his instincts and peripheral vision to thread the ball through and Wallace did the rest with a cool finish.
Buoyed by the assist, he later broke into the penalty area on the right, showing a continued willingness to get beyond the striker, and shot first-time at the keeper’s near post. Mark Ridgers wasn’t expecting the quick release and was almost beaten. It was all very promising. I’m happy to admit I was getting a little giddy at the prospect of a player coming of age in front of my eyes.
And then everything went flat.
The game became more stretched in the second half. St Mirren, perhaps encouraged by the quick-fire reply to Rangers’ second, were a much more attacking prospect after the interval. Holt’s role as the player who helped keep things calm in the opposition third was reduced, as things became less patient and more end-to-end. He’d barely registered a touch when Warburton decided to make some substitutions, and Holt was one of the first to go.
Craig Fowler called him a potential Player of the Year candidate on a recent podcast. I’d say it’s too soon for that. However, I was encouraged by the signs. There is little doubt Holt’s development stalled at Hearts over the last year or so. While he may have disappeared from sight after half-time in this particular match, his first half performance was enough to tell me he’s progressing once more.
Of that I am certain
The Football Critic
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