Our last visit to Falkirk Stadium for a Cup game was eleven months ago on the 21st September 2011 in the Communities League Cup. I think most of us got a bit of a shock that night because it was a tougher game then we'd hoped for and just after Jelavic had scored an equalizer on 87 minutes to tie the game at 2-2, we then suddenly went out of the Cup due to a 90th minute strike from Falkirk midfielder Mark Millar which Neil Alexander was somehow unable to keep out. Having already been put out of European competitions completely the previous month at the hands of Swedish side Malmo and Slovenian side Maribor, the unfortunate Cup exit in Falkirk was somewhat of a hammer blow, to put it politely.
That was then and this is now though. A hell of a lot's changed over the past eleven months, especially for Rangers because we only have five (yes five!) players still with us who were in our match squad at Falkirk last September and I'm talking about 5 out of the full 16 man squad including our subs bench. In fact, of the starting XI for us that night, only four remain: Alexander, Bocanegra, Goian and McCulloch. I'm not going to dampen this preview by naming all of the players who've left because seeing them all listed together is a bit gut-wrenching, but for most of you reading this, I think you'll know in your heart like myself that amongst those who left were our best players.
It's onwards and upwards though and Ally's starting to build a new team with some excellent young and experienced players travelling through to Falkirk tonight along with the five who were there last September. It's not quite as many as us, but Falkirk have lost some players themselves since that last encounter, maybe most notably the Moroccan striker Farid El Alagui who scored twice against us, left for pastures new this summer when he signed for Brentford. That would have been a significant blow to their strike force because El Alagui netted a LOT of goals for Falkirk last season becoming a big fans favourite and the second top scorer in Scotland behind Gary Pooper.
The other players who played against us to have left Falkirk since we last met are Mark Millar who's now with the Arabs, the defender Thomas Scobbie who's now with St Johnstone, the young defender Murray Wallace who's been snapped up by Huddersfield and the young defender Rhys Bennett who's now with Rochdale. Just as with us though, while Falkirk don't have a massive squad or loads of cash to buy one, Falkirk have indeed been bringing in replacements for some of their players who've left and there's a chance that they might have found a gem in the young English striker Lyle Taylor who they signed just over a month ago because apparently he scored against Bolton and put three past Middlesbrough in recent pre-season friendlies.
Could be one to watch there and another one to watch might be the young Scottish striker Jordan White who they bought in January. The 20 year old from Bellshill has yet to find the net for his new club, but he's bound to score sooner or later and with a surname like White I'd hate it to be against us. Last, but certainly not least, they've brought in a talented wee winger called Andy Haworth who came through the Blackburn Rovers youth system and this lad should definitely be worth keeping an eye on if he plays against us tonight. I'm sure I've missed something out, but I'm getting bored of writing about Falkirk now, so it's time to move on to our own team...
We all know what players Ally has at his disposal for this game and we also know that Ally hasn't so far proven himself to be a manager who makes big changes to his squad unless he needs to or thinks he can afford to, so to be frank, I really don't expect there to be much in the way of deviation from the squad Ally picked for the game at Ibrox on Saturday. The only major question marks are with regards to the fitness of Dean Shiels and Lee Wallace after they both suffered knocks in the game at the weekend and were said to be doubts yesterday, so obviously if either or both of them don't make the squad Ally will have to choose replacements.
They were both in the starting XI against East Stirlingshire and I'd expect Ally to replace them with players who started on the bench in that game if they don't make it. That would maybe see the extremely talented youngster Barry McKay who played superbly at the weeknd after coming on for Shiels taking the Northern Irishman's place in the starting line-up for this one. That would certainly be a popular choice with many fans, but Ally might have other ideas because he certainly has other options available to him.
If Lee Wallace doesn't make it, then perhaps the manager will give our new Brazilian defender Emilson a start, although I think that'll depend on whether Ally is going to stick with the formation he's been playing with three central defenders at the back. It's difficult to say what he'll do, but there's certainly room to bring in the Brazilian to play alongside Goian if he goes with a back four and moves Bocanegra to left back where he's comfortable enough playing and has played many times. I certainly wouldn't have a problem with that.
As ever, there's so many variables and different options in terms of formation and who plays where that it does make it extremely difficult to predict a starting XI and formation, especially when the loss of Lee Wallace or something else could force Ally's hand into making a bigger change than he'd have liked to.
Something also worth a mention is that the manager might still have the option of naming one or two of our trialists to play in this game even if they were to travel through as part of the match squad and start on the bench. It's worth keeping in mind because obviously if Shiels and Wallace drop out of the 16 man squad, Ally will have to bring in two players although I'm pretty much expecting that the two he chooses to bring in might actually be Andy Mitchell and Chris Hegarty.
Two things that are absolutely certain are that Ally won't be in a hurry to drop Andy Little after he knocked in a hatrick at Ibrox on Saturday and that this is an absolutely massive game for us all. It might only be a second round Challenge Cup tie through in Falkirk, but this game is huge and not least for Ally and the players who were there last September because they will certainly not want to walk down the Falkirk stadium tunnel as losers and out of a cup for the second time in a row. No, win this one tonight to progress in the Challenge Cup and then beat Falkirk again on the 30th of the month at Ibrox when they visit for round 2 of the League Cup!
Possible team (3-5-2):