It is seven days short of 17 years since Kenny Miller played his first Scottish Cup tie. He scored then as a Hibernian player. Yesterday, the 37-year-old didn’t just score as a Rangers player, he performed a Herculean rescue mission when the Ibrox club’s Scottish Cup hopes looked utterly all at sea.
Rangers’ season – and with it hopes of bringing a major trophy to Ibrox for the first time since 2001 – appeared headed for the rocks when the 84th minute washed around. Seeking an equaliser for Louis Moult’s headed opener, Rangers appeared bereft of ideas or impetus. Then Martyn Waghorn produced a bending, arcing cross – and it seemed as if Miller had donned a cape to fly through the air and head into the top right hand corner of Craig Samson’s net. Five minutes later, he was ruthless in dispatching a low shot into the corner after racing onto a Emerson Hyndman through ball, with Stephen McManus guilty of a calamitous error in passing straight to the on-loan American.
Indeed, as much as Miller was superb in those closing stages – “I feel a lot happier now than I did with ten minutes to go,” he grinned afterwards – Mark McGhee’s men self-immolated. As the Motherwell manager appeared before us, a broken man, it looked as if he could burst into both tears and flames as he hoarsely rendered his despair.
“I have only ever felt as bad as this twice in my 900-odd games as a manager,” he said. “Once at Millwall, when we lost in the play-offs, and the other time at Wolves, when we lost to Crystal Palace in the play-offs. They are the only games that match how I am feeling right now.
“Nobody has said anything after the game, nobody had anything to say. I’ve said to them what I’ve just said to you. They were the only words that were spoken. I couldn’t speak for half an hour, I had nothing to say.
“I didn’t think the game was won once we’d scored, there were still over ten minutes to go and we were away from home against Rangers. We knew they could come back. At that point the game-plan had worked and it had gone in our favour. It was more the mistakes than anything else. The second goal is ludicrous. I am gobsmacked to be honest. I have no words for you guys.
“It’s just hard, hard, hard to take.”
Following a largely colourless first 70 minutes – apart from the home side being denied a certain penalty when Steven Hammell clipped Michael O’Halloran shortly before the break – Rangers didn’t seem to have any answers after Moult produced a thunderous header to find the net, showing terrific spring to get between the Rangers centre-backs and power in a Chris Cadden cross.
However, Miller eye-poppingly provided them, to turn the questions round to the club’s failure to offer him an Ibrox stay he craves beyond the completion of his present deal, which runs till the summer.
Miller said: “Whether that happens or not is out of my hands. I have spoken to the manager on a few occasions so I know his thoughts on it. We will see where it goes.”
Miller refused to see a season that finds Rangers 19 points behind Celtic in the Premiership as going to hell in a handcart when Motherwell’s counter-punching approach put them into a winning position. The striker – who had a rare outing as a through-the-middle No 9 yesterday and said “there is no doubt that is my favourite position” and it “wouldn’t be a coincidence if that’s where you see the best of me” – also acknowledged a cup run is an imperative. He did not pretend there isn’t a hangover from Hibs doing to them in May’s final what they did to Motherwell yesterday.
Miller said: “See if we were 19 points ahead, would the cup run still be important? Of course it would, at this club. We need to go win the cup, it’s as simple as that.
“After last year there is an extra hunger. We had some really good performances, culminating in a really good day at Hampden against Celtic [in the semi-final]. But we never followed it up. All that joy and celebration after the Celtic game was pointless because of the fact we never went on to win it.
“With ten minutes to go we were 2-1 up in a cup final, but it was really disappointing to lose it in that matter. We want to go all the way this year and lift the trophy, so today was the first part of that journey.”
Miller’s football journey appears without end. Just as well for a club that cannot complete theirs without a major honour subsequent to their financial meltdown of almost five years ago.