WITH sectarian singing noted by the match delegate during last Friday’s clash at Raith Rovers, scrutiny settles upon Rangers on and off the pitch this evening as Kenny McDowall’s side head to Falkirk.
While maintaining the recent upturn in form is one thing, improving the behaviour of fans is quite another. As impassioned appeals go, McDowall’s comment with reference to the offensive singing that tainted last week’s win over Raith – “we hope we can get by without any of that” – doesn’t exactly count as a sermon from the mount. But it was just another sign why the current state of flux is so damaging for the Ibrox club.
McDowall directed reporters to a statement released by the club, where fans are asked to “act like ambassadors for Rangers”. The reason there is such concern is that, like last Friday’s game, this clash is being shown live on television. It is also an away fixture, often reckoned to attract the rowdiest fans.
The scope for further embarrassment is obvious and McDowall clearly doesn’t need this extra worry on top of ensuring Rangers can win successive games for the first time since the beginning of January. Director James Easdale’s resignation from the plc board on Thursday was another off-field issue that McDowall would not be drawn on in depth. Easdale’s departure leaves just three members on the board. The lack of leadership is obvious, and has been for some time.
Erstwhile manager Ally McCoist would of course have been the perfect person to make a plea for common sense ahead of tonight’s game, which is being shown live all across Britain. He is, however, on gardening leave, although his name turned out being evoked yesterday by McDowall, on the subject of the promising Andy Murdoch.
The 20-year-old midfielder has signed a contract extension until the summer of 2017 after scoring his first goal for the club in last Friday’s 2-1 win over Raith. Somehow, despite the power vacuum, Rangers have managed to get some business done that pertains to the future welfare of the club. In addition, 19-year-old goalkeeper Liam Kelly has also signed on at Ibrox for two-and-a-half more years.
“Ally’s been working on getting a new deal done for him [Murdoch] for a good few months and we’re delighted to get it over the line,” said McDowall yesterday. After discussions with his family, Murdoch reached the decision that remaining at Ibrox was the best way forward for his career.
“I just kept hoping my chance would come,” he said. And so it has, something McDowall insisted is within the grasp of all young players at the club, providing they are good enough.
“If you look at the squad, there are a lot of good players here,” the interim manager said, when asked why Murdoch appears to have come out of nowhere to be given his chance. “That’s the one thing about the Old Firm, when you come here you have to be patient.
“Every now and then there’ll be an Ian Durrant or a Lewis Macleod who’ll go in at a right young age and handle it and do very well,” McDowall continued. “If that’s not the case you have to be patient. Also, where we’ve been in the last couple of years, it’s been tough going as well and we had to make sure we were getting ourselves out of these divisions to be back to where we feel we should be.”
McDowall added that if they are good enough, then they are old enough, despite concerns that playing in the lower leagues could harm young talent. Rather, McDowall argued, it can help toughen players up.
“If they’re taking touches and getting smashed, it makes you learn quicker,” he said. “He [Murdoch] got off to a flier. I’m not surprised and Ally and Durranty won’t be surprised, because he’s been working with us for the last two years.”
With the EGM now confirmed to take place at Ibrox next Friday and the return to second place in the league, there are several reasons for positivity on top of the news regarding Murdoch. But, as ever, off-the-field issues still threatened to cloud yesterday’s pre-match briefing, following the news that goalkeeper Steve Simonsen’s two-game ban, with one suspended, for betting on football matches has been appealed by the Scottish Football Association’s own compliance officer.
McDowall was clearly baffled by this development.
“It’s the first time they’ve done this but should we be surprised?” he asked.
“Steve is frustrated as he lost his place to Lee Robinson because of this so he’s got that to contend with. And to then get this news on top of that isn’t ideal when you’re trying to get your place back.”
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