Yesterday Kris Boyd was to be Rangers’ Blue Adair. This troublesome Well had proved too hot to handle at Ibrox on Thursday night, leaving Stuart McCall and his team in a perilous position. Boyd was given a rare starting place in the hope he could score an early goal, put Motherwell’s gas at a peep, and lead the fallen Glasgow giants back to the Premiership.
Though he’d had a poor campaign for Rangers, Boyd had performed the firefighter role before, and at the death like yesterday. Towards the end of last season, it was his goals which kept Kilmarnock up, culminating in the one which blew Hibernian into the relegation play-offs. While the other 21 players on the field at Easter Road were all jittery with nerves, Boyd stayed calm like Red, dispatching his strike with his usual sullen aplomb. Could he do it again?
In the warm-ups, he looked like a player trying to remember the routine. On a sunny afternoon he was the only one in leggings and a woolly hat. At that moment the Fir Park DJ, who didn’t seem to have a record younger than 1983, the year of Boyd’s birth, at his disposal, spun the Temptations’ Get Ready: “Get ready, coz here I come, I’m on my way … ” The Rangers fans, only allowed tickets for half of the away stand, had to hope Boyd was.
His first involvement within seconds was to win a free-kick in a threatening area. “Boydy’ll take it and scud it straight into the wall,” remarked a pressbox sage who’d seen him more often, and that’s exactly what happened. But a minute later he got in a header when really he shouldn’t.
How many times has Boyd done this in his career and legend? There’s rarely any jumping involved, just grizzled knowhow, lurking and jostling. The centre-back will jostle back but Boyd will invariably hold his ground. On this occasion, though, George Long gathered the ball easily. Shortly after, the Motherwell goalkeeper didn’t have to make a save as Boyd failed to get a true enough connection on a ball which bounced invitingly for that trusty left foot. But he was the prominent man in these early stages and Motherwell looked nervous.
They probably didn’t know whether to stick or twist. They may still have been stunned by the exceptional performance they’d produced at Ibrox. They were sitting quite deep and Boyd, who’d been demanding the ball constantly and encouraging his team-mates, just failed to get on the end of a Richard Foster cross.
Another veteran of the Scottish goal-grabbing scene, Scott McDonald, had a similar experience when Lionel Ainsworth flashed the ball across the box. This encouraged Motherwell to stay up the park – with Boyd willing to help out at the back when required – and Lee Erwin’s clever feet created space for a shot which fizzed just wide.
Rangers were getting rattled. Andy Murdoch was booked for a bad tackle and then Haris Vuckic joined him on a yellow for a desperate dive trying to win a free kick in Boyd range before Lee McCulloch made it three for a studs-up lunge.
They needed to get back into the game legitimately and there are few more legitimately effective weapons in the Scottish game than Boyd’s backside. He used it to great effect to make some room in a crowded box and spring Kenny Miller. The attack produced a corner, the ball went long to Marius Zaliukas – the wrong man. When the defender blasted high over from a seriously useful position, the right man threw him a baleful glare.
The first half finished with Vuckic, who in the last three play-off games had been a far less effective performer than the first three, flinging over a cross which Boyd, successfully marking his territory again, nodded just wide. Backside, beard, baldy heid, growl – he’d been Rangers most conspicuous man in the first half and the most likely to get Rangers back in the final but he hadn’t scored yet.
The most outstanding player in the first game, Marvin Johnson, hadn’t been rampaging up the left flank to the same effect on this occasion but in 52 minutes those long legs and a couple of clever feints got him into position for a shot. The ball bounced off Zaliukas and continued spinning towards Cammy Bell, with the ’keeper making a terrible hash of trying to stop it, ending up on his backside in the net with the ball nestling next to him.
The goal was greeted with a flare flung on to the pitch. It burned for quite a while before a nervous-looking security man was able to remove it with the help of a bucket. Really, Bell seemed to view the deflected shot as being like a flaming missile.
The orderly might have offered him the use of the pail – that or Rangers should have sent for Blue Adair. But a minute later Boyd’s number was called, his time was up. He’d been a presence and at times a threat, without a golden chance coming his way. It just hadn’t worked out for him yesterday, or at any time in his second spell in light blue.
The hapless Zaliukas deflected another shot past Bell, this one by Ainsworth, and that was too much for some Rangers fans, including a number who’d managed to sneak into the main stand, and they streamed for the exits. “You’re staying down with the Hibees,” sang the Motherwell lot. Then they chorused at McCall, who’d done so much for the club previously: “You’re getting sacked in the morning.” Football can be cruel and McCall’s reaction was to applaud them.
Further cruelty followed with John Sutton’s penalty. Another substitute, Bilel Mohsni, was only on the field a few minutes but still managed to get involved in a fairly ferocious scrap with Erwin.
The bad feeling continued after the final whistle with Motherwell fans running onto the pitch to goad the Rangers supporters and being greeted with missiles. It made for a grim end to a failed campaign.