Rangers: Stuart McCall sings praises of play-offs

DESPITE his own play-off experiences being mostly deflating ones, Stuart McCall is delighted Rangers have now secured their involvement in a format he is well aware contains the potential for agony.

McCall is a great advocate of the guaranteed thrills and spills provided by play-offs. Picture: SNS
McCall is a great advocate of the guaranteed thrills and spills provided by play-offs. Picture: SNS

McCall was in the Bradford City side defeated by Middlesbrough in the semi-final stage of the First Division play-off in the 1987-88 season, only the second year after the play-offs were introduced in England. It was particularly frustrating because they had beaten Middlesbrough home and away in the course of the regulation league season.

McCall scored in the 2-1 first leg victory over Middlesbrough but endured the pain of losing out in extra time in the second leg, after a 2-0 defeat. McCall was also in the Sheffield United team heavily beaten 3-0 by Wolves in the Division One play-off final at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff in 2003 and so has every reason to be suspicious of once more being submitted to the long-form version of a penalty shoot-out.

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While he acknowledged he could again end up suffering, McCall has welcomed such a system having been adopted by Scotland. Rangers are now assured of a play-off place following Sunday’s 4-0 win over Raith Rovers and are aiming to secure second spot in the league in order to avoid a potentially tricky third place v fourth place quarter-final clash.

The Ibrox side can overhaul Hibs this evening by gaining at least a point in their rearranged fixture with in-form Livingston. While McCall wishes to ensure Rangers have two fewer games by finishing in second position, he is a great advocate of the guaranteed thrills and spills provided by play-offs.

“They are great games,” McCall said yesterday. “I was involved in one of the first English ones in 1987-88. It was bittersweet as we had beaten Middlesbrough home and away during the league campaign. They had [Tony] Mowbray, [Gary] Pallister, [Bernie] Slaven and were a good team.

“I scored in the first-leg play-off when we beat them at home but they beat us 2-0 in the return to go through. At Sheffield United we got to the play-off final and lost 3-0 to Wolves. They are good for the game and they are good for the crowds. It creates a bit of excitement.”

There has been much talk of bottle in recent days, with Hibs manager Alan Stubbs stressing that his side’s victory over Hearts at the weekend proved they had what it takes to go up after a brief wobble. Rangers midfielder Andy Murdoch, meanwhile, hoped his side could “get in the heads” of Hibs in the race for second place by ensuring they stretch the lead over their rivals to six points courtesy of wins tonight and then against Dumbarton this weekend. Hibs do not play a league fixture until next midweek.

“It might come down to nerve, it might come down to luck,” said McCall. “When we first came in there were one or two questioning whether we would even make play-offs so we have ticked that box.

“We, along with Queen of the South and Hibs, now want to finish second top to have two fewer games. But if we don’t we would need to get through six games to get out of league. It is all to play for and I don’t think anyone could predict who will come down or who will go up.”

Defender Darren McGregor yesterday stressed he wants to leave as little room for error as is possible by securing second spot. “I am not sure how thick and fast the fixtures come, but I believe it is two games a week. That would be demanding for any team,” he said.

“We have got quite a big squad so it would maybe suit us. But I think second would be a lot better and cut it down to four games.”

Whatever has happened during the course of this season, McGregor believes promotion would wash away a lot of the hurt, resentment and anger that has built up.

“For me, I always try and be positive,” he said. “It was a bit of mental block with all the games we have been drawing. We just couldn’t get across the line [for a spell]. With the gaffer coming in, that was maybe the change we needed.”

He doesn’t regret the move to Ibrox from St Mirren last summer and has already triggered a clause in his contract for another 12 months after being available for at least 50 per cent of this season’s games. “I was well aware coming to a club like Rangers that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” he said. “I still love coming into Murray Park every day and turning up to Ibrox is a privilege, and one that I would never have had the chance to do years ago.

“I have to thank Ally [McCoist] for bringing me in. I have loved every minute of it. There have been more downs than ups at stages with everything that has been going on but it is still a great club to be at.”

McGregor is aware there is a chance he might pass his old team-mates on the way down should Rangers gain promotion. St Mirren are now certain to finish in the bottom two and are more than likely to finish in the automatic relegation spot. “It is disappointing for everyone connected with the club,” he noted. “It is a good club, they have got a good community set-up and it is disappointing to see them going into the Championship.”