Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Andy Halliday, The Inside Track For Hearts Fans From A Rangers Supporter

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As a lifelong Rangers supporter and a passionate supporter of homegrown players, I have followed Andy Halliday’s career from when he was a kid. I write this not just to inform Hearts fans of the type of character and player they have signed, but also as thank you to Andy for his time at Ibrox.

Andy Halliday grew up in the shadow of Ibrox stadium; from the stands, he watched the greats Gascoigne, Laudrup and Ferguson, which no doubt inspired him to be a football player. And at schoolboy level, Andy soon caught the eye of Ross County’s youth Scouts. It was his feisty performances there that drew Rangers’ attention. Andy would then spend three years in the Rangers Youth program.

This was at a time when Rangers were spending big money, and the only room for a breakthrough to the first team was for exceptional talents likes Allan Hutton and John Fleck. Like many kids, he received that devastating blow that comes with being told, “you’re too short, you’re not developing quickly enough, so we are letting you go”.

Andy is a very open, and a heart on the sleeve type character. He would be the first to admit that when that day came, he shed a tear at the heartbreak at leaving his boyhood club. But he didn’t quit.

Andy Halliday would then join Livingston’s set up, where he spent three years, eventually signing as a pro and becoming a first-team regular. The youngster was a winger at this time. His willingness to go beyond the frontline and chip in with goals caught the eye of Gordon Strachan’s Middlesbrough who would spend over £200,000 to take him south.

Andy was overseen by several managers. He was in the team, then deemed surplus by the next man and sent on loan to the likes of Walsall and Blackpool before being bought back. But rather than throw the toys out the pram, he stuck with it, eventually securing his first-team spot at Middlesbrough. And just when he thought he was getting back on track, once again Halliday was told he was being allowed to leave on loan.

BRADFORD, ENGLAND – JANUARY 14: Andy Halliday of Bradford City celebrates after scoring the third goal during the FA Cup Third Round Replay match between Bradford City and Millwall at Coral Windows Stadium, Valley Parade on January 14, 2015 in Bradford, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Andy would leave on loan in the 2014-2015 season for Bradford City, turning in solid consistent performances. The highlight being the winning goal scorer in their shock FA Cup win over high flying Chelsea. With Bradford struggling financially they did not renew Andy’s contract which like this summer left him a free agent.

Mark Warburton had just become Rangers Manager and inherited a depleted squad, who had clawed their way up the league pyramid and had stumbled at the playoff stage. Warburton had weeks to put together a squad. There was little budget available to him, and free agents were going to be key to him spending in the right areas. Andy was invited to come on trial, with no promise of a deal. The chance to return to Rangers to settle unfinished business was something he could not turn down over the chance of a guaranteed contract elsewhere.

Under Warburton, Halliday and Jason Holt would become the two anchor points in midfield. When it came to the gaffer’s plan around flying wing-backs and high pressing, Andy and Jason’s job was to hunt for the ball back and recycle it. Bearing in mind, this was not the position Andy had played before. He excelled in his first season at the task being asked of him: win the ball back, get it out wide and then join the attack. His Rangers career could not have started any better, scoring a beautiful curling effort into the top corner against Hibs at Easter Road as Rangers won 6-2.

Andy was a key figure in the team Warburton won the Championship with that season. His best performance came against Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi-final, and together with Dominic Ball, they dominated the midfield (go and watch Halliday in the first 45 minutes of that game; it’s exquisite one-touch pass and move football).

In the final, Andy thought his wonder strike against Hibs had won the game, but for two late goals to spoil his and Rangers’ day and end the chance of a treble. A massive blow and another bump in the career rollercoaster.

Rangers’ return to the Premiership required Warburton to strengthen, and he brought in Joey Barton. Suddenly Andy was seen as back up. Probably unfair on Andy considering how he had played the prior season.

This was the start of what would be a turbulent period for Halliday. Having to pick himself up when called upon, still wondering why he never kept his shirt; he kept his head down and continued to push for game time. Following a training ground fall out, Barton left the club and Warburton would recall Halliday. Just as Andy was getting up to speed with the Premiership, Warburton would go under a cloud. Enter interim Murty. Again Andy would be called upon, no complaints he came back in and did the job asked of him.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – MARCH 31: Scott Brown and Scott Bain of Celtic are confronted by Andy Halliday of Rangers at the final whistle during the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership match between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park on March 31, 2019 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

The following summer Caixhina would come in as manager, and he would sign Ryan Jack on a free from Aberdeen for what was Andy’s position. Again after winning back his place, he was out on the back burner for a new signing.

Did Halliday ask to leave? No, again he kept his head down and trained hard. Caixhina would overlook Andy eventually telling him he was free to leave. Halliday wasn’t for giving up on his Rangers career. He convinced Caixhina to let him go on loan instead, the issue was getting a club willing to cover his wage.

When the call came from his agent that there is a Club willing to cover your wage, but it’s Gabala in Azerbaijan; Halliday did not change his mind. It never even crossed his mind to look for a permanent move away from Rangers to stay in the U.K.

Instead, he took a punt at the unknown, and off he went on his own to Azerbaijan. However unbeknown to him, he could only play in Europa League games due to a bizarre no foreigner rule in the Azerbaijan league. Halliday would play a game then wait two weeks for the next. You couldn’t make it up, right?

After Caixinha left, Murty would return as interim manager. And by playing the long game, he got his return to Rangers. Murty would recall Andy. He was thrown in to play against Celtic. However, having not played much football in the lead up to the game, Halliday struggled. Instead of waiting until half time to substitute him, Murty pulled him off minutes before that. The inexperienced man-management was a kick in the teeth that upset not only Halliday but Club Captain Lee Wallace and Kenny Miller.

But you would be wrong if you think Andy questioned ‘is it me’? Why does this odd stuff keep happening? How many more knocks can I take?

He simply dusted himself off again and bided his time.

With Steven Gerrard’s arrival, Halliday knew he would be competing against a higher calibre player for a midfield spot. The arrivals of Arfield, Davis joining Ryan Jack, he knew he had to be ready for anything to stay and play. So with the coaching team, he was moulded into a left-back cover, and he did a tidy job there.

His best performance at left-back again coming against Celtic in a win at Ibrox when he set the tone of the game by putting in a crunching tackle on Ntcham taking the ball then man. The Frenchman clearly shaken, spent the afternoon not wanting the ball back and misplacing passes out the park.

Andy would continue to play as left-back cover under Gerrard until the summer when his deal expired. Gerrard has spoken before about Andy’s attitude calling him “a dressing room Captain”.

He never complained about lack of game time, he supported his teammates and reminded them of the ‘Rangers standard’. You would struggle to find a former teammate who would have a bad word to say about him. He’s been raised with his feet on the ground and with a level head.

He’s vocal when he has to be. He’s painfully honest. Andy would be the first to admit he isn’t gifted with flashy skills and tricks. He’s a player who will do what is asked of him without complaint. He’s someone who has time and time again has found himself on the wrong end of cruel career twists but fought back time and time again. And right now Hearts need that type of resolve, spirit and character. He won’t hide, he will want the ball, and he will have a go with a shot from around the box. Or make a late run.

He will fit in well with the squad as he can give as good as he gets with the banter. Defensive midfield is where he will really add value as he will drop back protect the back four, and if they have quick left-back, he will drop in and cover his runs. If Hearts can get teams camped in, he will recycle out to the wide men all afternoon.

Under Warburton and Gerrard, he’s learned to play out of tight areas. What I have to make clear is he hasn’t played competitive football for over six months, so he will need to be allowed time to get back up to speed. He looks after himself, so I expect him to be in top shape ready to go within a few weeks.

I am pleased to see Andy stay in Scotland and he will play a key part in getting Hearts back up. Good luck Andy.

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