IT would be advisable for Stuart McCall to have a pair of jump leads in the kitbag he takes into Murray Park this morning. On recent evidence, it is difficult to see how else he will get a flatlining Rangers going.
The move to put McCall in charge of the ailing Championship side for the rest of the season brooks no argument. The increasingly moribund nature of Rangers as guided by under-duress manager Kenny McDowall meant it hadn’t merely reached the stage where the new Ibrox board had to act. The point had arrived where they simply couldn’t afford not to do so. Afford being the operative word.
The recruitment of a stalwart from Walter Smith’s nine-in-a-row team may have a financial as much as footballing imperative behind it. Even if they would not admit so publicly, new power-broker Dave King, his interim chairman Paul Murray and the other members of the reconstructed Rangers board would have been a little disheartened surveying Ibrox last night as the stadium played host to the first home game of their regime.
The club being returned into the hands of supporters was supposed to have their fellow faithful rushing to fill-out the ground and energise the home players as they took on play-off rivals Queen of the South. Instead, Ibrox remained a third empty, with the attendance of over 35,000 good by recent standards, but far from the show of strength or solidarity predicted.
Supporters often blame the stewardship of their club for non-attendance, and there is no doubt Ibrox followers hated the old board. As many of the club’s fans stopped turning up because they hated the attritional football to which they were being subjected.
New Rangers director John Gilligan has been open about the need for an uplift in home crowds to improve cashflow at a club that has been hemorrhaging money for years and, more recently, living off loans. That uplift was destined to fall short had McDowall stayed in charge; with that practically a guarantee performances would remain as abject. Franky, an feelgood factor from the regime change has had the life sucked out of it by the toe-curling display that brought the scoreless draw at Cowdenbeath before a scrambled draw at home to the Dumfries side that leaves Rangers with only one win from their past seven outings.
McDowall is a good man but of late he seems to have turned his day job into the opportunity to perfect his best I M Jolly. We get that he didn’t want to be a manager; that he feels the responsibility thrust on him is “tainted” because it came about through friend Ally McCoist, the man he has loyally assisted, being placed on gardening leave, and that he is only hanging around having followed McCoist into serving his 12-month notice because no severance package has been offered up. Honestly, though, it should have remembered it was a dug-out he was making his way into on matchdays, not a gibbet.
In terms of personality, McCall could not offer a greater contrast. The Scotland coach is therefore the perfect fit for a team that will surely find that his ebullience and natural positivity provides a release. With only six victories in their past 17 outings – seven of these under the new manager’s old Ibrox team-mate McCoist – McCall surely can’t fail to improve outcomes on the field.
Rangers have enough of a cushion over Falkirk and Queen of the South to ensure their place in the play-offs. Earning promotion through them is liable to require them to take out Hibernian. That looks a task beyond a group of Rangers players beset by such a joylessness in going about their endeavours on the park.
McCall’s Motherwell teams, for most of remarkably-successful tenure that ran to almost four years, exhibited verve and hunger to complement their doggedness. All facets sadly lacking in Rangers for most of this season. The 50-year-old worked wonders to make the Fir Park side top of the pile among the “other” clubs – third place directly behind a soon-to-be-liquidated Rangers in 2011-12 followed by two consecutive runners-up slots for so long. All the more so since he maintained Motherwell’s status in the face of constant budget cuts and the loss of major players.
He hit the wall this season, walking away in November as Motherwell slid towards rock bottom because he felt his promptings were no longer eliciting the same response. Now he has to produce an instant reaction to claw some hope of promotion for Rangers ahead of them embarking on the play-offs in little over six weeks.
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