THE remarkable events of Helicopter Sunday on 22 May, 2005 are never far from the thoughts of Alex Rae, who understandably rates it as the most enjoyable day of his football career, writes Lindsay Herron.
To win the Scottish title in such dramatic fashion at Easter Road on the final day of the season after Celtic blew it at Fir Park is as a good as gets for a lifelong Rangers supporter like Rae, pictured right after that historic win.
He accepts that victory for Rangers today in Leith will not quite be as impactful but it would be hugely significant. In Rae’s view it would end the Championship title race with two thirds of the season to go. An 11-point margin would be unassailable in his view, but the 46-year-old is not so sure his old side will prevail today.
Rae has been impressed with the way Hibs have recovered from losing twice to Rangers in a month – 6-2 in the Petrofac Training Cup and then 1-0 in the league at Ibrox – to put together a run of seven wins and a draw.
He believes they will offer a serious challenge to Rangers today and they are more than capable of ending Mark Warburton’s flawless start to the league campaign.
Rae said: “I think a point might suffice for them today in the sense that Rangers will not get further away from them and although eight points will be tough to make up it’s not impossible. However, if they could win and close it to five it would be a massive psychological boost for Hibs. It might just cast a little bit of doubt in Rangers’ minds.
“Conversely, if Rangers win it then the league is finished. Eleven points would be too much to claw back even at this early stage of the season.
“I think it will be a really good game. The 6-2 game flattered Rangers. I think the league game at Ibrox showed that there is not much between the sides and it was only a spectacular free kick that won it for Rangers. There were not too many chances in that game and it might be the same again.
“That said, if Rangers really click then they are such a handful for anyone. I love the way that there is flexibility middle to front, with the midfield players interchanging and the front three doing the same. It makes it harder for opposition defenders to deal with.
“Equally, [Hibs striker] Jason Cummings is in a rich vein of form and you would think he would be a handful if he plays to his best. He’s a confident lad and if he misses a chance he will believe he can take the next one.”
The big problem for Hibs is that there is no sign of any of the other sides in the division taking points from Rangers and that makes their task even harder. Rangers’ margins of victory might not be as wide as they were earlier in the season but no one can find a way to pinch even a point from the Ibrox men.
Rae said: “Most of the teams raise their game against Rangers but no one has been able to take anything from them. And that has made it even harder for Hibs because although they have put together a great run since they lost narrowly at Ibrox in August they’re getting no help from anyone else.
“If they are going to do anything in the Championship race they are going to have to do it themselves so obviously the head-to-head matches are going to be so important.”
Former Wolves and Sunderland star Rae will tune in today intrigued at the prospect and seeing Easter Road again will send his mind wandering back to 2005 when Nacho Novo’s goal won the title as Celtic lost 2-1 at Motherwell.
He added: “That day at Easter Road is never far from my thoughts. I was over in Dubai last week with Marvin Andrews and a few lads for a legends tournament and we were reminiscing.
“It was such a massive day for everyone and it still gives me goosebumps thinking about it.
“My only regret was that I wasn’t younger and could have gone on to enjoy more of these days. However, it is a memory that will remain with me forever.”