It's, erm, Friday and it wouldn't be Scottish football without a Rangers home game kicking off on a day not normally associated with football. In recent years TV scheduling/money has taken precedence over fan convenience but with Celtic playing Partick Thistle tomorrow lunch-time, this time it's our friends at Police Scotland who've demanded our game be moved. Apparently the potential for trouble with three Glasgow teams playing on the same day is too much for the boys in blue to handle. With Celtic struggling to achieve five figure crowds nowadays (at Firhill or Parkhead) that seems a bit of an over-reaction but we'll have another 45,000+ at Ibrox tonight no matter the day or time. And with the opportunity to go 15 points clear at the top of the Championship table, hopefully the players will been just as keen to get stuck in as well!
Certainly if last weekend's Scottish Cup win over Dundee is anything to go by, we won't have much to worry about. One nil up after 14 seconds and going on to score a further three goals saw an impressive 4-0 victory at Ibrox. The reward being a semi-final tie against Celtic at Hampden and I'm sure every player will be as excited as our fans with that draw. Quite simply, between now and that fixture, I'd expect every player to be at the top of their game to show they're worthy of a place in that team. Important league matches against, amongst others, our nearest title challengers Falkirk and the opportunity to finally win the Challenge Cup should ensure a positive attitude is maintained in the dressing room.
First things first though and, as Hibs found out a couple of weeks back, we have a very tough match tonight against Morton. Whilst we've beaten the Greenock men twice away from home earlier in the season, we could only sneak a 2-2 draw via a late Martyn Waghorn header at Ibrox in December (and that was after an early Rangers goal in that game too). Moreover, although the wins at Cappielow look comfortable on paper, Morton could easily have scored in both matches at crucial times so we'll have to be on our guard tonight. One positive is that Morton won't sit in like other teams and will look to use the joint physical threat of Johnstone and McManus along with the creative spark of Forbes and Barr to cause us problems. Hopefully, as we did with Dundee, we can exploit any space created by their attacking work.
Moving onto our team selection it will be interesting to see who Mark Warburton picks tonight - especially with the likes of Billy King and Michael O'Halloran available again after being cup-tied. The defence - including Wes Foderingham - pretty much picks itself but with Robbie Kiernan suspended, it's likely Ball will replace him at centre half meaning a similar line-up to the team that played so well in our last league match at home to Raith Rovers where Harry Forrester played in a central role. The main question will be will Kenny Miller and Barrie McKay start or be held in reserve for next week's top-of-the-table clash at Falkirk (again on Friday night) or will we see King and Clark return instead?
No matter the team selection, the rewards are clear. Beat Morton and not only do we increase our lead over Falkirk, Hibs could be 17 points behind (though with a game in hand). Even worse for the Edinburgh men is that by the time they play their next league match we could be 20 points in front if we also manage three points from Falkirk away next Friday. We could still be caught in a mathematical sense but to all intents and purposes the league would be over. What better mental preparation for our two games at Hampden?
However, it is fair to say, there's still too many ifs and buts in the above text. Yes, we're now overwhelming favourites to secure automatic promotion but the job still needs to be done. The manager is also right to suggest the Celtic match is too far away to have an eye on now. But, it's also fair to say players will be using that date as motivation to prove they should be in the team that day. With that in mind, those selected tonight can put a marker down for their inclusion. And, what better way to start the weekend than picking the strongest side available to us...
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