Happy New Year!!!
I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and good New Year's celebrations with your friends and families. If you're like me, you might have still been slightly hungover on Wednesday for our first match of 2013, but with the first home game of the new year at Ibrox fast approaching, it's time for those of us who got carried away at New Year and had a dizzy 2nd of January to get back down to the business of talking about football.
Despite some tough games against resilient opposition and the odd turgid performance, after an excellent run of wins over the past couple of months where we've sometimes had to grind out the points like every top team, we now find ourselves in a superb position in the league to kick off the new year and run-in of our race to winning the 3rd Division title.
With the first game of 2013 away to Annan Athletic down at Galabank on Wednesday seeing us extend our lead in the SFL 3rd Division table to 17 points with a hard-fought 1-3 win, it has to be said that we're now sitting in a great position. With us only having played 18 of our 36 games for the season the league's certainly not over yet, but no supporter of any team in the world would tell you that a 17 point lead at the top of the league after 18 games isn't extremely significant.
Of course, Queen's Park still have a couple of games in hand due to postponements, so they could still reduce our lead at the top of the table slightly if they take 3 or more points of the 6 available to them from those two games. That won't be of any concern to Ally and the team though because they'll just be focused on what they need to do themselves and on winning our own games, not on what Queen's Park or any other team are doing in a bid to close the gap.
Having said that, I'm sure Ally and his management team will be watching with interest this month to see what players other clubs in our league bring in during the transfer window. That will obviously affect us when we play them and with the increased cash in most of our opponents bank accounts thanks to large attendances so far this season, there's a fair chance that some of them will look to improve their squads in a bid to gain promotion.
I don't want to sound too cocky about us winning the league just yet, but it has to be said that promotion via a playoff spot and following Rangers up a division to keep getting our large away support visiting again next season, as well as trips to Ibrox and improved broadcasting revenue will be a VERY attractive additional incentive for some of our current league opponents to spend a little of their newly acquired cash on squad improvements this January.
I don't think us Bears will be expecting much transfer action at the club this month given that we're being stopped from signing any new players over the age of 18 by the SFA's cooked-up and shady transfer embargo. You would be forgiven for considering the thought that perhaps certain parties in Scottish Football's corridors of power don't actually want to see a speedy return of Scotland's most successful club to the top flight. Some people call that sort of thought a conspiracy theory, but I'd say given the evidence that it's more like justified acknowledgement of an actual conspiracy.
Anyway, despite their best efforts they can't keep Rangers down. They've tried and they continue to try with all the trumped up garbage they can muster, but Rangers are on the way back up whether they like it or not and we'll be seeing them back at the top where we belong a lot sooner than our enemies would like. They better be prepared.
Meanwhile, we welcome Elgin City to Ibrox again on Saturday for another league encounter against them and another step on our journey back to the top. Elgin's last league visit to Ibrox back in early September saw them score first and take the lead after just 15 mins, but in even less time Dean Shiels had us equalised and David Templeton scored a second to take us into the lead after 29 minutes. Then thanks to a first half stoppage time goal from Lee McCulloch, we had scored 3 goals in the first half to go in 3-1 up at the break. Another goal a piece from Templeton and Jig in the second half saw us winning very comfortably that Sunday and I'm sure Ally will be looking for an equally strong performance this Saturday, minus allowing Elgin to score first of course.
We've got an extremely strong record at Ibrox so far in the league this season (as we all expect) and I'm sure that's something Ally and the whole team will be looking to preserve. Having only conceded 3 goals in 8 home games, everyone apart from the visitors and some external, obsessed Rangers haters will be looking for us to keep another clean sheet. With us having scored 26 goals in those 8 home games too, I'm sure Ally and the lads will be keen to see us creating plenty of chances and banging in a few more on Saturday. Entertaining as scoring a barrow load may be though, it's the 3 points that count at the end of the day, so winning is paramount!
At this point it's still uncertain which players will be returning from injuries, niggles or illness, so we don't yet know if Lee McCulloch, Dean Shiels, Emilson Cribari, Anestis Argyriou, Lewis MacLeod or Kal Naismith will be returning to action. What we do know is that young Darren Cole who was introduced again down at Annan won't be in the squad because apparently he suffered ligament damage in his ankle on Wednesday and his season could be all but finished, so all we can do is wish him all the best and a speedy recovery!
With that in mind and the uncertainty over Argyriou's fitness it's going to be interesting to see how Ally lines up our defence because when Darren Cole went off injured at Galabank Ally chose to bring on Sebastien Faure to play at right back and kept the central pairing of Perry and Hegarty together rather than breaking them up by moving Hegarty to right back and slotting Faure into the middle beside Perry. It's wasn't the first time Faure has played at right back for us this season though and he did fine on Wednesday, so Ally might have a tough decision as to whether to play Faure there again or play Hegarty there. Of course, that depends on whether or not any of our other defenders are fit to return to action on Saturday.
If Lee McCulloch doesn't make it back into the squad I won't be at all surprised to see Ally opting to give Sandaza another opportunity up front, although it has to be said that the big Spaniard hasn't exactly been on fire for us so far, so I probably won't be the only person thinking they'd like to see one of the young lads given a chance up front.
Kane Hemmings is fit again and returned to the squad for the game at Galabank, but was kept on the bench, so it'll be interesting to see if he's maybe given a chance up front at some point on Saturday. With our huge home crowds giving the young lads lots of support so far and thoroughly enjoying seeing them thrive when given the opportunity, I'm sure Ally will have young Hemmings in his mind for some game time even if he doesn't give him a starting place.
With the uncertainty over which players might return I can't even begin to guess what Ally's starting XI will look like, but I can at least say what team I'd personally like to see him start with, so here's to another win, another 3 points on our way back to the top and this is the team I'd like to see Ally line up for a start on Saturday: