Either everyone at Ibrox has been coached into saying the same thing, or else they really do consider tonight’s William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-final replay against Albion Rovers to be the biggest match to date this season.
“It’s absolutely massive for everyone at the club…our most important game of the season,” said manager Ally McCoist, previewing the replay at Hamilton Accies’ New Douglas Park.
The players have been saying much the same, as evidenced by Nicky Clark after Rangers kept their unbeaten League 1 record by defeating Dunfermline Athletic 2-0 at Ibrox on Saturday.
The team took severe criticism after nearly crashing out of the cup to the side from the lower division at Ibrox last week, and Clark and colleagues want to make amends, with the carrot being a semi-final tie on their home soil against Dundee United.
“It’s a massive game on Monday night for us and we really want to win it and get to the semi-final,” said Clark.
“It was obvious that last Sunday we never really got going and we wanted to make amends for that. We don’t really read the stuff you see in the press, we just get on with it.
“People are going to criticise us if we don’t get the results, even if we won 6-0 or 7-0 every week, but that doesn’t happen. So we are are hoping to do well on Monday night. We’re unbeaten in the league, scored a lot of goals and not conceded too many, so I think we’re doing great. If we get to the semis, I’m sure we’ll raise our game again, especially as it’s at Ibrox with the fans behind us. It will be a great occasion for us.”
Asked if progress in the Scottish Cup had come to define Rangers’ season, Clark conceded: “Yeah, I think so. But even without that, we’ve won the league and I think it’s the earliest any team has won the league in a long, long time, scored loads of goals and got into the final of the Ramsdens Cup. But the Scottish Cup final would be a great achievement if we get there. We have great players and I don’t think we’d be doing well now if we didn’t have players good enough to go and win it.”
That Ibrox will host the semi-final regardless of whether Rangers make it through has caused much controversy, but as Clark pointed out, that was nothing to do with the players.
“It was decided it would be played here,” said Clark. “We never picked that.
“We would have played them anywhere, but it just happens to be here. We’ll just need to get on with it.”
Clark is not long back after being out for nine weeks with injury, but with seven league games to go, a final in the bag and another perhaps just 180 minutes away, he has plenty incentive to retain his place.
He said: “Hopefully I can get back in the team and get another run and score a few more goals. Wednesday night was unbelievable – it was a dream come true to win the league with Rangers. It was a great atmosphere in front of 40,000-odd and the fans have been terrific with us all season and they showed that on Wednesday.”
It’s for the fans above all that manager McCoist wants to make that semi-final, but he is wary of Albion’s threat, especially given that they disposed of Premiership side Motherwell earlier in the cup.
“If there is any message it is to ourselves, that we need to get the job done,” said McCoist after Saturday’s win over Dunfermline. “Albion Rovers deserved all the credit from the game last Sunday – that’s fine. We know what to expect when we don’t perform to the best of our ability. The one thing we have always tried to do and always will do is maintain a level of respect for our opposition. That said we want to go and turn them over. We absolutely want to turn them over.
“There is a semi-final place up for grabs. What an incentive. So I can assure everyone we have taken the criticism on the chin. And we are 100 per cent focused on getting the job done on Monday night.”
McCoist thinks Albion’s manager James Ward will not change his basic system, and will rely on Ciaran Donnelly on his own up front for a goal threat.
“Watching them against ourselves on Sunday and having watched their previous games against Stenhousemuir and Motherwell in particular, they played the exactly same shape. And I don’t see them changing it.
“I might be wrong, James might have a right go, and if that’s the case then we will need to be ready for that. But I’d be very surprised. I think they’ll set up the same way with the 4-1-4-1 with Ciaran sitting in front. And I would imagine from our point of view we will have to be a lot more crisp and sharp on the ball than we were last Sunday.
“I still think we had chances to score and chances to win the game. But it wasn’t good enough and now we have an opportunity to put things right.”
Given all the statements about this being their biggest match yet this season, it’s clear that nobody at Ibrox is taking this replay lightly. That fact alone reflects great credit on Albion Rovers.