Given the volume and variety of Rangers related news in the Scottish press & media this week it’s very tempting to discuss, touch on or simply take the mickey out of some of the scoops as an introduction to this match preview and I might do, but I don’t want to get too sidetracked from the importance of this football match because of yet another round of Ashley scented boardroom chaos or the stench of the SPFL and their ‘sporting integrity’ drivel.
The talk about big Mike, pitiful SPFL sponsorship deals, the latest round of ‘league reconstruction’ brainstorming at Hampden’s septic think tank and all the rest of this week’s distractions are going to have to wait because the 2nd leg of our play-off against Queen of the South at Ibrox on Sunday is more important to our Club’s immediate future than any of the sensationalist pap the Scottish media have been cooking up for us.
Unfortunately, it seems as though we’ve had to say this quite frequently this season, but once again it is absolutely make or break time for this Rangers team. Going into the game at Ibrox on Sunday afternoon with a 2-1 aggregate lead gives us a very notable advantage over the Doonhamers, so failing to progress to the play-off semi finals against Hibs would not only be a catastrophic capitulation, it would be failure of epic proportions.
Thankfully, the manager and the players will be confident about winning this one and getting us through to the next round and so they should be. We’ve been playing better recently including the last league game at Tynecastle which we really should have won if wasn’t for a calamitous substitution late in the game and some equally calamitous defending immediately following Lee McCulloch’s unpopular introduction.
Sadly, it has to be said that calamitous defending has been one of this Rangers team’s trademarks throughout the season and last weekend at Palmerston was no different because our defending at Queen of the South’s goal was absolutely criminal. How on earth we managed to give their main threat and top goal scorer Derek Lyle such a massive amount of space in the box is unfathomable.
Fair enough, we had players who were deliberately fouled in our box right in front of the referee Alan Muir and that was partly to blame. Even still though, we already knew they use those blocking tactics, so should have been better prepared for it and should have also had at least one man at the back post end of the 6 yard box where Lyle eventually found himself in yards of space without a Rangers player anywhere near him. Hopefully Stuart McCall and Kenny Black have addressed this.
Another aspect of recent games which I’ve been finding increasingly concerning are Stuart McCall’s substitutions. We had the infamous and hugely unpopular Jig substitution at Tynecastle a couple of weeks ago and then last weekend I was again left bemused as Nicky Clark was brought on for Haris Vuckic when the big Slovenian had been having a pretty decent game. Kenny Miller was yet again completely knackered in the second half of the game and mostly anonymous, so it begged the question as to why Clark wasn’t brought on as a straight swap for Miller.
I was also somewhat confused as to why the manager thought swapping Smith for Crawford made any sense when I think most people were thinking Tom Walsh was the obvious replacement for Smith. That’s not a slight on Robbie Crawford, it’s just that even before the game when we heard the team sheet I think a lot of fans were thinking Walsh was unlucky to miss out on a chance to play on our left wing, so you’d have thought he might have been first in line to come on when Smith had to go off.
I don’t want to be hyper critical though. When I saw Stevie Smith’s name on the team sheet last week others were questioning the decision, but personally, I was thinking it wasn’t too bad an idea. He’s generally a solid corner taker and can be deadly at free kicks with that left foot of his, so despite not always offering much creativity or attacking flare on the left, he does have his strengths. He also seemed to be a lot more positive in his play on the left after scoring his goal last week, so maybe his cautiousness prior to that was partially a lack of self-belief and scoring the goal gave him a confidence boost.
We can dissect selections and managerial decisions all we like and Stuart McCall’s team selection, tactics and vital decisions on Sunday afternoon will certainly play a big part in whether our promotion aspirations move on to the play-off semi-finals against Hibs or not. As is always the case though, the players have a massive part to play too and on Sunday we need every single one of them to play like their lives depend on it.
The fans will have a huge part to play too and with the Club expecting a near sell-out crowd the players have already been commenting on how the fans can help spur the team to victory. Tickets are selling quickly, so if you don’t already have them, then get them fast and get along to Ibrox on Sunday afternoon to cheer the Teddy Bears to victory!
MON THE GERS!!!
You can buy your tickets online HERE. You can also buy them via the Rangers Tickets Hotline on 0871 702 1972 (option 1) - open all week from 9am-9pm. Or you can visit the Ticket Centre – open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday 9am until 5pm. Thursday 9am until 6pm, Saturday 10am until 2pm and is open until kick-off (3:30pm) on Sunday.
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