THERE is little doubt that Stuart McCall has succeeded in having a galvanising effect on Rangers since his appointment as interim manager almost three months ago.
Taking charge of a group of players whose morale was at rock-bottom and who even appeared in danger of missing out on the Premiership promotion play-offs altogether, McCall dragged their chins off the floor and guided them towards a shot at making it back to the top flight.
“At the moment I feel I’ve been 12 rounds with a heavyweight boxer and punched in the gut”Stuart McCall
Whatever motivational qualities McCall possesses, however, there is a limit to what they can achieve with a squad which has the inherent weaknesses which were evident in Thursday night’s 3-1 defeat at Ibrox against Motherwell in the first leg of the play-off final.
As he prepares for tomorrow’s return fixture at Fir Park, McCall will make personnel changes to his team and perhaps also work on tactical alterations.
But when it comes to instilling the attitude required to retain any chance of turning the tie around, McCall believes the time has come for his players to look no further than the nearest mirror.
“I like to think I can get the best out of whatever I’ve had to work with since I’ve been a coach and manager,” said McCall.
“Whatever way you do that, though, deep down it comes from within. It has to. You have to realise that yourself.
“I don’t want any faint-hearted, weak-willed or nervous players on Sunday. I just want men. I want people to take the game by the scruff of the neck and do everything they can.
“Let’s guarantee that they give everything from the first whistle to the last whistle. It’s the last game of the season. They can go away and rest after it, but don’t come off the park on Sunday thinking you didn’t give everything you’ve got.
“I can’t point the finger at them for lack of endeavour, effort or desire since I came in. Maybe just a lack of quality and poor defending at times.
“I don’t like saying we now have nothing to lose on Sunday, because we have a place in the Premiership to lose.
“But no-one is going to give us much hope outside our dressing room. So whoever gets the opportunity to wear that jersey on Sunday has to give everything they’ve got.
“We ask that they go out and just give everything they have regardless of what’s happening on the park.
“When questions have been asked of us this season and there have been doubters, the biggest percentage of the time since I’ve been here the players have answered. I think we can do that on Sunday.”
McCall appeared totally crestfallen immediately after Thursday’s game. By the time he faced the media at lunchtime yesterday, he was still some way short of his customary upbeat demeanour.
“At the moment I feel I have been 12 rounds with a heavyweight boxer and punched in the gut,” he added.
“I feel a bit winded, a bit hurt, a bit wounded but I know I’ll feel better tomorrow and I will be 100 per cent right for Sunday. That’s the same for the players. Naturally, it’s a bit raw in the aftermath of last night.
“But I have had so many good messages from people inside the game and outside the game and as we all know, it is only half-time. We are fortunate to get another crack at it. If this was cup football, we’d be out, but come Sunday we’ll be ready to be better than we were.
“We have to try and make sure that, come what may, that we are as good as we possibly can be. We need to show a bit of courage.
“I remember Alan Stubbs saying after we beat Hibs in the first leg of the semi-finals that a 2-0 lead was a difficult one to defend and he got a bit of criticism for that.
“But I agreed with him, because it was exactly what I would have been saying. It’s all about the first goal in the second leg in that situation.
“It’s all about the timing of goals. If Hibs had scored earlier than the 94th minute against us at Easter Road in the second leg, it would have been a different game.”
McCall must try to strike a balance tomorrow between creating the chances to rescue the tie at one end of the pitch and preventing Motherwell’s counter-attacking pace causing as much damage as it did to his team at Ibrox.
“In fairness, Motherwell can only throw it away now,” he said. “With the experience they’ve got in their ranks, it is theirs to lose.
“What we have to do is make sure we defend better than we did on Thursday, to give us any sort of chance whatsoever.”
It will be McCall’s first match back at Fir Park since he resigned as Motherwell manager last November.
“It will be strange going into the away dressing room,” he said. “But it’s not about me on Sunday. I can set the tactics up and send subs on. But it’s about who goes out onto the pitch for us and that’s all we can think about.”