It's been just over a month since we last played Livingston. In an increasingly tiring 'journey' where I often forget the name of the team we're playing until the day of the game, it's a bit strange that a disappointing 1-1 draw at Ibrox in March sticks in the mind. However, this match does for two main reasons: 1) it was Stuart McCall's first game in charge as manager and 2) because of the Livi fans (all thirty or so of them) singing about how we weren't Rangers any more.
Now, while these apparently confused fans of a club that has changed its name twice in the last 40 years may have missed the irony of questioning Rangers' acknowledged continuing time-line, there is a fair comparison to be made between these two otherwise markedly different clubs. Yes, Livi may have changed name from Ferranti in 1974 and from Meadowbank to Livingston in 1995 but, I'm sure for a section of their fans, it remains the same club that started out in the amateur leagues of Edinburgh just after the second World War. There may not be many supporters left who experienced that era but I'd be surprised if anyone wanted to deny some old engineer their memories from that time. Just as the European adventures of the most recent entity will have excited their younger generation 13 years ago.
Of more relevance now though is that despite two insolvency events, subsequent enforced relegation and points deductions this season for tax inconsistencies, Livi are still fighting for their life in the SPFL Championship. And if this wasn't enough trouble for the club to seek, their current owner Neil Rankine has been found guilty of dual interest in Livi and East Fife with the club recently being fined for this breach of SPFL rules. Add in a registration embargo and a threat of league expulsion if Mr Rankine doesn't dispose of his shares in Livi this month then I doubt there will be much for the home support to sing about tonight; never mind taking the moral (or at least poor banter) high-ground over their Rangers supporting counterparts. Unfortunately, given our own issues with insolvency and alleged dual ownership, even a 41 point gap in the league table means neither can we appear smug.
Indeed, if we look at the three on-the-pitch meetings between the teams this season, that points gap is less obvious in the direct match-ups. Yes, we may have taken seven of a possible nine points from the games but none of our two wins have been convincing while the most recent match resulted in a draw. Obviously, our recent forum has been better (the Palmerston capitulation aside) but given that Livi are fighting for their lives in this division, we can expect another tough match tonight.
Fortunately for Rangers fans, we're coming off the back of a good weekend win at home to Raith Rovers so this should mean an unchanged line-up while the grass pitch will be welcomed by a Rangers team that has an apparent affliction to artificial surfaces. Cammy Bell should start in goal with the same defence as Sunday in front of him. Lee McCulloch may be back from suspension but it's unlikely he'll be brought straight back into the starting XI. Meanwhile Robbie Crawford did well in an unusual right wing back role so he'd be disappointed to lose his place. His selection may depend on the formation.
Moving into midfield, both Haris Vuckic and Nicky Law contributed goals and creativity against Raith and another man of the match performance from Andy Murdoch means he's a certain starter as well. Dean Shiels has upped his game of late in a deeper role so he should complete the engine room with Kenny Miller and Nicky Clark probable starters in attack. This means we have the exciting option of Tom Walsh from the bench and his development is something Stuart McCall will been keen to extend tonight.
This only leaves the rather tricky question of which Rangers team will turn up. Yes, we know all the players by now but too many, too often turn in Jekyll and Hyde performances that have put us in the perilous position of relying on play-off places than outright promotion. Even in that sense, perhaps we're still better off than our opponents tonight but instead of one-upmanship both sets of fans may wish to reflect on just how similar our positions are now.
Yes, we're still Rangers and yes we're still here. The same can be said for Livi but neither we nor the home support can take our future for granted, no matter what has went before. Our history is our history but we don't know what lies ahead. When three points is no longer enough: that's a shared truism which will hurt both sets of fans as much as losing any match. No matter who wins tonight, let's hope both clubs win the more important battles ahead.
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