SINCE Stuart McCall has taken on his new post, it doesn’t do for him to get deep into conversation with friends of a Rangers persuasion. “If it was up to them, they wouldn’t have a team because everyone would be dropped,” said the latest Ibrox manager.
If selection was left up to the players, Rangers could struggle to name an XI too. In recent weeks those whose efforts have ensured McCall’s side haven’t been given a hope in their Championship encounter away to Hibernian today have become adept at donning the sackcloth and ashes. If only their contrition was as visible when attired in their club’s colours.
A regular grumble from Ibrox followers is that there appears to be a favouritism where certain figures appear in the team lines, irrespective of form of the team’s fortunes. McCall, in his drawn home games with first Livingston and then, in midweek, against Alloa, has made changes, notably promoting teenager Tom Walsh. Yet the core has remained the same. Same as it ever was, the detractors among the faithful would despair. One win in eight, and five straight draws, does that to those parting with their hard-earned to watch a team that weren’t expected to struggle to win the second-tier title, never mind languish in third place.
“Kenny [McDowall] tried all different permutations up front with our five strikers,” McCall said. “You speak to one fan who wouldn’t have him in, and another who wouldn’t have him in, and so on. It’s the same with the back-line and the midfield. If you speak to supporters, they’re so frustrated and disappointed with a lot of things.
“People have said it to me, ‘I wouldn’t have him, him or him in the team’. But that would leave us with about two players and I can’t flood the team with youngsters. My job is to get the best formula, a winning formula, out on the park. We’ve got time to do it and it’s what I’m striving to do.
“I spoke to Dean Shiels before we picked him for the Alloa game on Tuesday night. I don’t know why he’s only had four starts this season. Obviously, there are reasons, and Dean will be a big part of that. But he did well the other night, for his first full 90 minutes. Everyone is in the same boat – when you get an opportunity you have to grab it. You’ve got to show you want to be out there, in training and games.
“I know there are players here who want to be in my team. But they have to show it. It’s OK being willing and wanting to do it. But there’s a big difference between that and actually producing.
“Next season, Rangers need young, hungry players. Of course, you need to balance it with experience. But I’d like to have energy and vibrancy in the team next season.”
There is nothing lacklustre about many of the characters within the Rangers team when speaking to them directly. Darren McGregor is a case in point. He sounds hungry to make amends for Rangers’ rudderless performances in recent months, and convincing when he states that the boost given to that by bringing in McCall to the end of the season can spark the dramatic turnaround required.
The defender, who grew up supporting Hibs and said his family have been “fine” to his face about the trio of wins for Alan Stubbs in the meetings between the teams, understands why his straw-clutching can feel like reality-blindness to many.
“I know it’s doom and gloom, we’ve had a very poor season but the fact of the matter is come the end of the season and we’re promoted then that’s what we set out to do. We need to be optimistic as a squad of players, as a group,” he said. “It would be seen as a disaster if we didn’t go up. I appreciate the fans look at the squad of players, the wages paid and are totally entitled to their opinion. We’ve been well off it and we’re well aware of that. It can be hard to accept at times when you look at yourself in the mirror and say that you’ve not been good enough. I think we could all do that.
“We can still rectify the situation by getting up but that’s going to be a hard ask. The pessimist will say we’ve won one in nine and the recent form doesn’t suggest anything other than dropping further down the league. But we as a unit need to see the positives and say: ‘we go there on Sunday, produce a good result and that could be the catalyst for the remaining games and we could get up that way.’ That has to be the view we take.”
The view McGregor took when, in November, he said that a pace-setting Hearts might struggle to cope with that pressure has been made to look silly as the Tynecastle men close in on their coronation. The likeable 29-year-old holds his hands up to misplaced hope on that front.
“I realised as soon as I said it that I was putting my neck on the line. More often than not when something then goes wrong, you get pelters for it,” he stated. “When I said that, I meant it at the time. We were playing Alloa at home and maybe it was a wee bit of an oversight from me. But the fact is we could have gone a point behind Hearts and I said it would be interesting to see what the pressure would be like on them.
“We never beat Alloa, Hearts won their game, so credit to them for that. I am not going to talk up Hearts. Everyone knows they have done well and Robbie Neilson has done a good job. They have only lost once in the league so the proof is in the pudding. They are deserved champions and we want to get up with them.”