GOING into the second leg of their play-off with Rangers, Queen of the South believe they can overhaul the deficit. That belief is fuelled by more than simple self-confidence, They also have recent history to draw on.
When Hamilton Accies headed into the return leg of last season’s Premiership play-off final, against Hibs, they were also trailing. Many thought the capital side had already sealed their survival but Queen of the South manager James Fowler saw at close quarters just how much faith the lower-tier side had in their ability to turn things around.
‘It’s good to get away and get other people’s views and opinions’
On the same coaching course as the Hamilton manager Alex Neil at the time, Fowler says aspects of the way Neil handled himself have helped the Palmerston Park gaffer 12 months on.
“I was on my A licence and I spoke to Alex Neil because he was on the same course, flitting in and out. I know Jim Fleeting [who runs the SFA training courses] was quite flexible with his days [because of the play-off preparations]. He was coming and going and had other things on his mind but was keen to get the A done. But I think it shows how key it is to get it done because he has progressed down south!”
Coming back from a 2-0 defeat in the first leg, Hamilton reversed that scoreline in the second game before winning the tie on penalties. Neil also gave them a platform to impress in the top flight this season, earning the manager his switch to Norwich midway through this term and a shot at promotion to the English Premier League via more play-offs.
The way Neil conducted himself a year ago has been a valuable education resource for Fowler to draw on and highlights the rewards which could be in place for the young manager if he can emulate Neil and see his team through the remaining games and into the Scottish top tier.
“It showed that you can multi-task. Sometimes it’s good to just get away and get other people’s views and opinions,” said Fowler. “That can reaffirm your view. They [Hamilton] were quite happy with how they played in the first leg and they felt that if they could go there and get the first goal, Hibs being the bigger team, favourites and with the crowd it might get a bit nervy for them. We probably have a similar mindset.”
Fowler’s side are also considered underdogs. But they are aware that they are only trailing by one goal and bolstered by the knowledge that they have bettered Rangers so far this term, winning twice in Dumfries, and drawing one of their clashes at Ibrox .
But Stuart McCall has toughened Rangers up since he assumed control. Less fragile, more organised, they have the option of trying to protect their lead or going for the jugular early on and trying to extinguish Queens’ hopes.
With so many permutations, so much information to draw on, Fowler hopes that the fact he too is juggling a coaching course with the task in hand will work out as well for him as it did for Neil last season.
“I think it is [a good distraction] because it can drive you nuts.
“This week I have been on my pro licence and not had too much time to myself. It’s been good to speak to the coaches and fellow candidates on the course. They’ve told me we were unlucky to lose last weekend so that reaffirms my views on the game. Sometimes you can be a wee bit clouded in your judgment and think you’re the best team regardless, but when you hear that from other people whose opinions you respect it helps. Alex is on the pro too and he is in the same situation again.
“Norwich have a massive game too. It’s funny how things work out.
“But everybody is looking forward to it. We lost the last game [last weekend] but there wasn’t much in it so there’s not anything for us to be worried or too downbeat about.”
Fowler’s hope is that Rangers come under pressure from their own fans, who are desperate for promotion and may believe that progress is a foregone conclusion after last weekend’s result.
“They have maybe gone away and thought the hardest part of the job has been done by coming down to our place but at the same time their objective will be to get through the tie, however they can.
“If they are at home and play as defensive as they did last week then maybe the crowd will get on their back. We’ll see. I don’t see them changing too much. If we had got a draw or won the home game then maybe we would be going to Ibrox thinking we’d maybe want to go more defensive ourselves but we know we need to go and win so we start with that mindset. We’ll be positive, we know what we have to do and that makes it easier for us.
“As a player you can over-think it and the same as a manager. You might try and be cute and go there for a 0-0 but we know we need to win and I think that will reflect in the team we pick.”