EVERY week they’d check the teamsheet, only to discover they weren’t quoted. But instead of growing disillusioned, a group of Rangers cast-offs ensured that if their opportunity came then in the spirit of the club motto they’d be “Ready”. Against Queen of the South they seized their chance.
“There was a large group who were not playing and what you should do in those situations is keep working hard,” said Dean Shiels. “You haven’t seen much of Stevie Smith either but he’s one of the best professionals I’ve ever been with. He worked hard so that he was ready and that’s the way I’ve looked at it as well.
“Obviously I wasn’t getting much game time but I think this season has been the hardest I’ve ever worked, especially through October, November and December when I wasn’t playing. You do that in case your chance comes and thankfully under the new manager it has done.”
Shiels, a scorer on the day along with Smith, said that all through those lost months he didn’t lose faith, or self-belief. “I always believed in my ability to do well,” he said. The player also stressed that he’s never wavered in his determination to help return Rangers to the top flight, even as the task’s degree-of-difficulty increased. “It’s what I signed up for when I came to the club,” he said. “It’s been very difficult going to places like Annan and Arbroath – a long, hard struggle. But it would be an unbelievable achievement for me to help get Rangers back up. It’s what I always wanted to do and hopefully it will happen this year.”
Shiels was delighted with the victory, especially after Rangers miserable experiences at Palmerston earlier in the season. “We knew this match was going to be tough, having found it so difficult here before. But we came with a game-plan this time and managed to carry it out successfully.
“We wanted to come here and win. We didn’t want to stifle but to get everyone forward and we managed to do that against a very good team. We knew Queens would cause us problems but we were able to see the match out.”
He was reluctant, though, to describe his goal as “crucial” when the tie had only reached the half-time stage. Maybe his club have more big-game experience for what next Sunday would throw up, he said, but the pressure on Rangers players doesn’t ever drop. “You have to be mentally strong no matter who you play for,” Shiels added. “At Rangers there’s extra pressure but if you don’t want that then you should go and play bowls. Pressure is part and parcel of the game and we expect it every time we step over the line.”
He hoped a big Ibrox crowd would be able to roar the team to victory. “If everyone pulls together – players, staff, fans – then we’ve got a great chance. The fans have been brilliant but now we need them more than ever.”