The Inuit people have a word for it; shaktolik. It describes the feeling of going towards somewhere for so long it seems you’ll never get there. It describes us perfectly as once again we find ourselves regrouping following another set-back on the long road back to the top.
The departure of Pedro Caixinho last week wasn’t universally popular with every Rangers supporter but it had an air of inevitability about it by the time it happened. Our visitors on Saturday are part of the reason why. It’s only six weeks since we visited Firhill on a Friday evening where we threw away the lead in infuriating fashion. At that time Thistle were bottom of the league, today they sit 10th, a point off 8th but only two from bottom. We find ourselves in fourth place, having been leapfrogged by Hibs in mid-week who have now played a game more than us. Neither the top two, Aberdeen and Celtic, are out of sight either, something that makes the two points we dropped against Thistle last time even more frustrating.
I was speaking with Thistle supporters after the match, they were naturally ecstatic, but they underlined something that had already dawned on me; they were no longer scared of Rangers. Ergo, Thistle will visit Ibrox filled with confidence on the back of two victories and a draw in their last three matches and believing they can get a result against us, remember they don’t fear us anymore. Thistle should start with in-form striker Miles Storey who summed up this current Rangers side in a recent interview, “You don’t know what you will get from Rangers but I think we should have beaten them in one of the two games at home so we will go there confident after a good week”.
“You don’t know what you’ll get from Rangers”. Well you should know, you should get the hardest match of your season. You should be fearful of coming to Ibrox, you should be in awe of our players, their stamina, team spirit and ability, that’s what the end of this journey looks like. [Article continues below competition advert...]
As for Rangers, well, unfortunately, we also don’t know what we’ll get, even the composition of the side is hard to predict. The manner of last week’s victory over Hearts lifted our spirits, but then he who expects very little is seldom disappointed. Expectations are higher this weekend and every player who started could rightly expect to do the same against Thistle. But with Alves available after suspension and Pena fully fit both can expect to be in contention though Dorrans may miss out again due to injury. The polarising Kenny Miller must surely start along with Morelos, who he seems to bring the best out of, and Jason Holt was man of the match for me last weekend. It’s at centre-half we might see changes, if Cardoso is fit both he and Alves might return, however that would be hard on Wilson and McCrorie who both played well last week. I expect Windass will retain his place as will Candeias with Tav and John at full back.
That’s a side capable of winning, drawing or losing to Partick Thistle as all of us know. Rangers have struggled against physical, determined teams who close us down quickly and deny us space. We need to win the physical battles before we can play football; we’ve better players than Thistle, but have we a better team?
The other interesting factor is the man who’ll pick our side on Saturday; Graeme Murty. He’s in the almost unique position of having no pressure on him. As the very dark horse for the permanent manager’s job he gets to audition in real time whilst everyone else looks at Aberdeen or down south. Murty’s standing was boosted by the Hearts result and his pragmatic, creditable draw at Parkhead last season. Is he a serious candidate for the manager’s job? Well he’s certainly an outside bet, but he’s got the job just now and another performance like last week won’t do his reputation any harm.
The Inuit’s have another lovely saying; “If you are going to walk on thin ice, you might as well dance”. Murty has nothing to lose, an aggressive, committed home performance that displays some remnants of team spirit and togetherness will easily impress our support, arguably more than beating Hamilton away might.
I’m looking forward to Saturday’s match, that’s not a feeling I’ve had before every game this season, or last. Yes, we’re starting again, but we’re starting from a different place. We’re further on even if it might not feel like it. I hope the player’s dance on Saturday, after all what have they got to lose.
Possible team (4-2-3-1):
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