In ‘Raptor’ his excellent book on the UK’s birds of prey, James Macdonald Lockhart describes his attempts to see a Honey Buzzard in the wild as cryptozoology. He knows it exists, others have seen it, yet it remains elusive to him. He spends days in the Forest Of Dean, rising early, using hides and spending hours in what he believes are the perfect positions to observe this magnificent, if elusive, animal. Yet it remains tantalisingly out of reach. His frustration and disappointment are clear, he wants proof this bird exists in Britain and to see, and enjoy, its drama and beauty for himself. He’s willing to invest significant time and effort into this too. Cryptozoology is, in essence, about studying and finding things that just might not be there.
There are cryptozoologists among the Rangers support just now. They believe a fluid, strong Rangers side, a side capable of putting in a sustained challenge for the title, tactically astute, hard to beat, determined and skilful, defensively strong, with guile and quality and goals throughout the team exists. They have faith. This faith is largely built around a belief in Pedro Caixinha. The charismatic, multi-lingual, Portuguese, retains the goodwill and trust of a large percentage of our support, despite some evidence he might not be what we hoped he was.
Yet, there have been glimpses of promise, evidence discovered, catalogued and observed closely. Our opening weekend’s win over Motherwell was as pleasing as it was unexpected for some of us. In spells we looked very good. As yet though we don’t know just how good a side Motherwell are this season, perhaps everyone will collect full points at Fir Park, perhaps it’ll be a fortress. At the end though I was left with the feeling that, whether through luck or design, this was a match we’d have dropped points in last season.
A comprehensive demolishing of Dunfermline at Ibrox followed this. A 6-0 victory over any side can’t be ignored and having spent time in the Championship we know first hand how well organised and difficult to breakdown clubs there can be. Not only did we win but our forwards suddenly burst into life too, the previously uninspiring Morelos found his form and Miller continued to defy old father time. However, this is a Dunfermline side that beat Hearts in the cup, yet only drew with newly promoted Livingston in the league. They’ve cut budgets this season, getting rid of their development side and losing their two best players to Championship rivals. It’s also worth remembering that we hammered both Peterhead and Queen of the South this time last season at home too and we all know how that worked out.
So, have we finally seen conclusive evidence of a Rangers team we all hope exists?
For me, this Saturday, will be the first real litmus test. Hibernian visit filled with confidence and no shortage of ability. Fresh from their own demolishing of a lower league side in the cup and a good opening day win at home to Thistle, Hibs are still riding high on the momentum of last season’s promotion. Managed by our old foe Neil Lennon, this is a Hibs side that’s easy on the eye, can attack at speed and has goals throughout the team. They might have lost the talismanic Jason Cummings in the summer but Lennon has strengthened his side with some astute recruitment. The talented Simon Murray from Dundee Utd, the under-rated Swanson from St Johnstone, experience in Anthony ‘not a fan of Elvis’ Stokes and the mercurial Stephen Whittaker and, somewhat surprisingly, Vykintas Slivka a midfielder from Juventus. These bolster an already decent squad with the much-lauded John McGinn still their most potent creative force.
They’ll arrive in Govan believing they can win, I expect they’ll look to hit Rangers on the break, keeping it tight at the back and counter-attacking at speed, playing for set-pieces and trying to frustrate Rangers. They’ll be backed by a good sized and noisy travelling support too. It’s a rare Saturday afternoon kick off which should enhance the atmosphere even more.
Rangers might be without captain Lee Wallace who was a late call off against Dunfermline. A section of the Hibs’ support have a problem with Wallace, apparently taking exception to being assaulted isn’t the done thing in Leith, hopefully Wallace will be fit to help inflict more discomfort on them. If he’s not I expect Hodson will fill the left back berth.
Apart from that the defence should pick itself. Alves and Cardoso in the middle with Tavernier on the right. In front of them I expect Ryan Jack to return to the side despite Rossiter’s good performance against the Pars. Dorrans along side him with the ever improving Windass on the left and Candeias on right. It’s upfront the manager has a decision to make. Herrera has started the season as the first choice centre forward however at times he’s looked a bit isolated and ineffective. I feel you can see the player in there and his movement and touch has created space for others, however goals have been missing from his game. Morelos, who I thought looked very poor when he came on against Motherwell, had a great game in midweek, scoring two, working hard and being involved in everything. As a striker no more can be asked and he can rightly expect to start the next match. One of them will partner Kenny Miller, but I’m not sure which one, Caixinha has a big decision to make.
With Foderingham returning in goals suddenly this Rangers side is taking on a familiar look, you can see its spine, there is a balance and certainty to it that’s been missing until very recently. Are we starting to see the real thing, or is it simply a case of looking too hard for what we want to believe is there?
Like our visitors this Saturday it was a man from Edinburgh, Ivan Sanderson, who coined the phrase Cryptozoology to describe the hunt for the rumoured, the unexplained and the paranormal. Often derided and dismissed as fantasy Cryptozoologists retain, above all other things, belief. Football fans can easily relate to this. We cling to the flimsiest of evidence, we spend hours analysing, dissecting and discussing it, convincing ourselves, and other like-minded people, as to its worth.
This Saturday we’ll discover if this is a real Rangers side, or simply another false sighting of a myth we all hoped was genuine. A bad result will undo very quickly the goodwill Pedro has rebuilt over the last 3 weeks, a good result will confirm sceptics like me should have had more faith, the proof was there, we just didn’t know how to find it.
Possible starting XI:
What are the bookies saying?
Miller's confidence in Rangers' goal scoring abilities this season appears to be shared by the bookmakers at www.sunbets.co.uk. Although the Glasgow side isn't topping the latest outright markets - that honour goes to Celtic (1/20) -, the odds makers do believe there is a chance. If the likes of Miller et al can fire on all cylinders, 16/1 on Rangers could be a solid bet. Of course, with Hibs at 9/1 and Aberdeen hovering at 20/1 for the title, it won't be an easy run towards the title. However, if Miller can recapture some of his finest form and inspire his teammates like he did when he scored five in one game against St Mirren in 2000, anything could happen.
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