John Lundstram of Rangers. (Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images)
Back in 2019, Turkish club Menemenspor got quite the shock when new signing Alpha Jallow turned out to be a bit below par. You see, the second division outfit had thought they were signing Alpha’s namesake, Lamin, and were found to be sorely mistaken when it transpired their latest arrival could barely kick a ball straight.
Likewise, some Celtic fans must have been wondering if Brighton had in fact sent them Shane Duffy the Boyzone singer instead of Shane Duffy the Republic of Ireland international on loan last season, and after last night’s showing there’s no doubt several Rangers fans scouring phone books of the general Sheffield area to determine whether there might be any other Mr. J. Lundstrams living in the vicinity of Bramall Lane that perhaps got sent up to Ibrox by mistake.
Steven Gerrard’s men seem to be approaching both their title defence and their bid for European football this season with an added streak of self-destructive complication, kind of like a trapezist who is insistent on wearing a blindfold.
It’s a bold strategy, and we shall have to wait and see if it pays off for them in the long term, but on Thursday night, it was indeed summer signing John Lundstram who decided it was his turn to throw a spanner in the works by getting himself sent off shortly before the interval in the Gers’ Europa League qualification play-off first leg against Armenian champions FC Alashkert.
In the end, his dismissal proved to be more of a flesh wound than a fatal blow, with Alfredo Morelos’ second-half strike sparing just enough blushes to hand Gerrard’s men a narrow advantage heading into next week’s return fixture.
But in the immediate aftermath of Lundstram’s exit, an ire that has been simmering since his arrival in Glasgow began to ooze its way across social media.
Expectation was high for a 27-year-old who as of last year was plying his trade in the Premier League, but as yet, the reality of his stint at Ibrox has been underwhelming.
Granted, we’re still talking about a spell that is at such an early stage it’s positively embryonic, but aside from a goal in the 5-0 League Cup rout against Dunfermline Athletic, there’s been little to get excited about where Lundstram is concerned.
Yes, his pass completion rate averages out at a very respectable 91.1% in a Rangers shirt, but of the 80 or so passes he makes per 90 minutes, just 11.69 are into the final third, and about one fifth of those go astray. Even more damning is the fact that just one quarter of Lundstram’s total pass tally is sent forward, and of those, just 86% are accurate.
In short, there’s no cut and thrust to his distribution - it is largely ball retention for ball retention’s sake, and while it is true that top teams need players who can recycle possession and help them to sustain periods of pressure, there has to be a limit.
Lundstram’s only saving grace at the moment, and it is a minor one, is that his defensive work is solid enough. He’s no Claude Makelele, but the ex-Sheffield United man is winning 50% of his duels, as well as averaging 8.7 ball recoveries per match. Both of those figures are higher than Glen Kamara’s this season, for example.
It’s been said a thousand times before, but good players don’t become bad players overnight. On his day, Lundstram is not just a good player, he’s an outstanding one.
The key for him is finding his rhythm in a Gers side that has to uphold incredibly exacting high standards for the sake of their silverware hopes. Rash, detrimentally impulsive moments like last night’s red card are just about the worst thing he could do to help his chances of achieving that aim.
Thankfully, it was a case of no harm done against Alashkert, but next time he might not be so lucky.