IN MAKING the most straightforward tasks appear arduous, Rangers ensured one thing was simple in reviewing Stuart McCall’s stuttering start to his managerial stint at Ibrox.
Only one player in home colours could be entirely excused when assessing the ineptitude that resulted in the Ibrox men slipping to a fourth consecutive draw – courtesy of looking secondary in footballing ability to the bottom team in the Championship. The starting debut produced by 18-year-old midfielder Tom Walsh allowed McCall to use the word “terrific” in connection to an afternoon that was anything but for him otherwise.
McCall will make a difference to Rangers; precisely because he is willing to try something different. He spoke afterwards of being prepared to make changes for what really is a must-win game at home to Alloa tomorrow, about the need for “a freshness about the team” and the “need to mix and match and try to come up with the best formula”. By jiminy, they need all of that.
Rangers have stopped looking up in the Championship. They do not seem capable of catching Hibernian, seven points above them having played two games more. They are looking to the teams in fourth and fifth because Queen of the South and Falkirk are within two victories of them, and in far better form. While Rangers have won only one of their past six league matches, Queens’ and Falkirk have three from that span. Kenny Miller admitted it “would be the biggest capitulation ever” if the Ibrox men contrived even to miss out on play-offs they look in no state to negotiate.
Not everything came off for Walsh as he drove down the flanks desperately trying to fashion openings, after Rangers seemed to fall apart following a goal in nine minutes from Haris Vuckic, who produced an imperious angled finish from the edge of the box after a swashbuckling run. But the teenager had energy – which so many of his team-mates alarming lacked – and application.
It is to McCall’s credit that he gave a first full 90 minutes to the prospect who he had only seen playing for half an hour in the midweek 1-1 draw at home to Queens that brought an end to the tenure of acting manager Kenny McDowall.
“After Tuesday, I was quite happy because I thought I made quite an impact,” said Walsh. “I was hopeful of getting a game today, but with the new manager coming in you don’t know. So it was good he put his confidence into me.”
The reality is, McCall can hardly have confidence in many others at his disposal. He lamented that Vuckic has now been lost to him for a couple of weeks after taking a knock to his ankle, which he said gives him problems because the Slovenian has netted three of Rangers’ last six goals.
McCall is well aware of the need to get going, get some “momentum” before the trip to Easter Road on Sunday, and Walsh, while taking care not to slight the outgoing – and the never-wanted-incoming – McDowall, maintained there had been a lift even in space of only a few Murray Park sessions.
“The couple of days training has been brighter you could say,” Walsh said. “I think just a new voice always helps. The new gaffer will put new ideas in and, hopefully, we can start playing better and start getting results because we need to get the fans back on our side. That’s what we need. We need to stick together because there is no point getting on each other’s backs, but you can understand the fans’ frustration. All we can do is give our best, work hard and hope results come. We need to improve, we know that.”
The Ibrox fans have well and truly lost it with the playing set-up at their club. They haven’t returned in the numbers expected since the Dave King regime took control. The stadium was little under a third empty for the two home games played in the past week, with no upswing for the return of so popular and successful a player as McCall to take the reins.
The visitors’ equaliser came in the 45th minute, when Ibra Sekajja knocked the ball over the line from practically on it after it bounced his way following a Danny Mullen header that thumped the goal frame. The forward then did himself an injury with his celebratory backflip. Seconds later a Rangers fan in the stand almost did himself an injury with the anger he allowed to consume him, that sent his blood vessels bulging as he screamed: “Sort it out McCall”. It was an indication of how thin patience has worn among the Rangers faithful. You would need a microscope to detect it now.
It would have stuck in the throats of the home faithful that dictating play in the centre of the field for Livingston as they dominated their hosts in the first period was a Rangers cast-off in Darren Cole. He was one of the youngsters that Ally McCoist wasn’t willing to blood in the lower divisions as he embarked on a strategy that has proved horrifically wasteful in both financial and football terms – the former illustrated by the fact the club are still paying the manager handsomely merely not to come to his work.
Cole, who played for the club in the Champions League against Bursaspor, admitted he expected “the crowd to be behind Rangers more and for more fans to be at the game”. “When I was with Rangers in the Third Division the feeling was that with the players we had at that time the club should, 100 per cent, be getting promoted every year but it’s not an easy Championship with Hearts and Hibs and even the likes of ourselves,” said Cole, unwittingly laying bare the almighty mess Rangers have made of managing massive advantages.
Livingston had lost the five games they had played before travelling to Ibrox. The Hearts and Hibs teams have been assembled with a fraction of Rangers’ £6 million budget. McCall may be old friends with McCoist, but his predecessor in the Ibrox managerial post has left him a pig in a poke.
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