What a difference a month can make. At the end of February we were all down in the dumps praying the old board wouldn’t cause too much damage before they got kicked into touch. They had already borrowed 5 million pounds from Mike Ashley as part of a 10 million package and gave him security over everything but Kenny McDowall’s notepad. They had already started the process to cash in on the second 5 million when thankfully they were handed a nil hour contract by Bronco Dave King in a shootout at the Marble Staircase. Bronco Dave then took over control of the Rangers Boardroom and told the outlaw, big bad Mick to stick his 5 million up his OK corral.
Unfortunately there was a sting in the old board’s tail, as they mugged us for 500,000 pounds for loaning 4 hospital patients and one player who can and does play a part in our hopeful promotion to the premier division. Newcastle get the money if we are promoted.
The team were also on a bad run. They had been knocked out of the League cup by Celtic 2-0, and the Scottish cup 2-1 to Raith Rovers. They had also been beaten decisively 4-0 and 2-0 within the previous few weeks by Hibs who had moved above Rangers in the league. Even reaching the play-offs was looking agonizingly in doubt at that time. Kenny McDowall looked more and more to be totally lost for ideas on how to get the Rangers ball rolling without it ending in the Rangers net.
Kenny of course had taken over from Ally McCoist who had been put on gardening leave, but it was even hinted that Ally could only get weeds to grow in the garden. All of a sudden the Rangers garden looks a little bit rosier. The new Board brought in Stuart McCall as temporary manager and put Kenny McDowall out of his misery by releasing him from his withering position.
After some spade work where the team could only draw games despite playing some good football it seems McCall had sown the seeds to improve the Rangers landscape and taught Ally how you can turn a lot of manure into some hardy blooms. We may not be near entering the Manchester Urban garden festival or the Chelsea flower show yet, but we now look more like a landscaped garden than a railway allotment. Maybe Stuart will be planting a few Deihlia's next season.
The pick of the crop was beating Hibs at their own midden and then also beating the champions Hearts on Sunday to put us back in second place. Our rise in performance has coincided with a Hibs mini collapse which means that even although they won their away game against Dumbarton last night, they’re only equal on points with Rangers having two games in hand.
The first of these games is against the also high flying Queen of the South tonight. Rangers travel down to Palmerston Park, Dumfries, to play Queens who will be full of confidence after their 0-1 win against Hibs at Easter Road on Saturday. Queens are still in the fight for a place in the play-offs. They’re only 2 points behind Falkirk with 2 games in hand and 8 points behind Hibs with a game in hand. They also beat Rangers 2-0 on our last visit to Dumfries, but they’ll hopefully see a different performance from the Rangers team this time round.
One player certain to miss the game who started in the win against Hearts, will be Lee McCulloch who was shown the red card on Sunday for leading with his elbow when competing for a high cross. Dave king won his battle in the Court of Session making him a fit and proper person to be on the Board of Rangers but Big Lee would probably lose his battle to be called a fit and proper player in some supporters’ eyes. Some will even be happy to see the back of him. Slow, no positional sense, can’t head a ball are a few of the supporters complaints.
In fact the only complaint I haven’t heard yet is that he doesn’t get a drink in when he is in the pub. Well maybe he can join our other star defender from the Newcastle five, Remie Streete, and have a wee drink instead of playing. After one half Remie disappears. Trying to get a drink out of an Englishman might have him as badly positioned as on the football field though.
Lee McCulloch, Sébastien Faure, Richard Foster, Stevie Smith, Remie Streete, Kevin Mbabu, Jon Daly and Tom Walsh will all miss out. On the grand scale of things it is only Jig, Faure and Walsh that have played any real part in our season so far.
Cammy Bell has been McCall’s first pick since coming in and barring an injury I wouldn’t imagine that will change tonight. He’s been a bit shaky since coming back, but hopefully with every game he plays his confidence will rise.
Trying to read McCalls mind may be a little dangerous, but I imagine he will go with a flat back four with McGregor, Zaliukas , Mohsni and Wallace, with the two wing defenders given the freedom to move forward when possible.
A five man midfield of Vuckic, Murdoch, Shiels, Law with Miller playing in a more advanced role on the shoulder of Nicky Clark who will play in the strikers role. Clark returns to Palmerston where he was top scorer a few seasons ago. Hopefully he still knows where the old onion bag is and plants a few in the back of it (this time for Rangers of course). You certainly can’t accuse Nicky of not doing a shift as he works his socks off. If he gets his scoring boots back on then he could be a great player for the club.
McCall’s strategy of pressing the ball early has been a breath of fresh air to the team. That mixed with an injection of confidence and obvious extra fitness makes the biggest difference to our game in my eyes and long may it continue.
I think the team will be ‘never change a winning team’ (except Jig):
McGregor – Zaliukas – Mohsni – Wallace
Vuckic – Murdoch – Shiels – Law
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