KILMARNOCK will arrive at Ibrox Stadium this morning undaunted by the fact that, since their first attempt in 1891, they have yet to beat Rangers in a cup tie at the old stadium.
Part of their confidence will stem from their manager, Allan Johnston. Not only did he famously score all of Hearts’ goals in a 3-0 victory there against Walter Smith’s nine-in-a-row team back in February, 2006, but he also guided Queen of the South to their first-ever cup win in Govan two years ago.
His part-time side came from behind to force extra time and beat the hosts in a penalty shoot-out, and the memory of that Ramsdens Cup success provokes a grin as Johnston recalls the elation he felt.
“That was a great night,” he said. “We went into the game with a gameplan, where we weren’t going to sit off, we were going to try to attack. It was a very good team performance and we stuck with it right to the very end – I think we got the equaliser in the 90th minute so we showed great persistence. We went on to win the competition, too, so hopefully that is an omen!
“We fancy our chances. It is a cup tie and it is all about who plays to their potential on the day. We have players who can cause Rangers some problems.”
A Scottish Cup run is essential for Rangers. The current version of the club is in dire financial straits and any extra revenue could help stave off a second insolvency event in four seasons, triggering a calamitous 25-point penalty.
The fact that Rangers manager Ally McCoist is working with a budget roughly five times the size of Johnston’s only partially explains why the new club continues to haemorrhage money but the fact is that McCoist literally cannot afford yet another early exit from a knock-out tournament.
Johnston is a former Rangers player but he will have no compunction about putting the Championship contenders to the sword today, in spite of the ruinous effects an away victory may have.
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“We’ve got to focus on ourselves,” he said. “If we win and generate some money into the club then hopefully that can benefit us in the long run and help us to improve the squad by bringing in new players.
“Still being involved in the Scottish Cup is also an incentive for a player to join us. Also, with so many all-Premiership ties, then there is a real chance of going far in the tournament. There is fantastic opportunity for the winner of this game. It’s a massive chance. Rangers defeated Inverness and St Johnstone in the League Cup. They have real quality in their team, top players with Premiership and international experience.
“But we need to go and try to win the game. We will be positive. Every player is looking forward to it and they want to test themselves against the best on a big stage.
“If we play to our potential then we can cause trouble for Rangers. We need to get on the ball but there has been a real bounce in training this week.”
Johnston was signed from Sunderland by Dick Advocaat in the summer of 2000, the high point mark of Sir David Murray’s spending. Within months, £12 million would be spent to secure the signing of Tore André Flo from Chelsea, but Martin O’Neill’s Celtic won the treble and, in 2001, Advocaat was kicked upstairs and Johnston, who’d been deployed sporadically and erratically, was sold to Middlesbrough.
“It was a frustrating time,” he said. “I played the Champions League games for some reason, but wasn’t used in most of the league matches. I only played in the big ones! Then, against Hibs following one of those Champions League ties, I broke my toe and was out for three months. And that was it, basically. It was stop-start.
“It was frightening, the squad we had. You had guys like Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Jorg Albertz, Tugay [Kerimoglu], Barry Ferguson, Neil McCann, Andrei Kanchelskis and Ronald de Boer – and that was just the midfield. Myself and Paul Ritchie came in at the same time but not many of us got the chance to play a run of Premier games in a row (Ritchie left without ever making an appearance in a competitive match).
“You would come in for a game and then disappear for a few more. It was difficult at a club of that size with the quality of squad that we had. Kenny Miller was there as well, but he was just a young lad, who had been signed from Hibs and it took him a while to settle in. You would never have envisaged then what has transpired since but they are still a massive club. You can see that with the size of what they have and the expectations of the fans.”
Winger Rory McKenzie scored his first senior goal on the weekend that Kilmarnock beat Rangers 1-0 on their last visit to Ibrox on 18 February, 2012.
However, it was for Brechin City in a 3-2 away win over Stirling Albion. The 21-year-old is eagerly anticipating his first match against Rangers. “I wouldn’t say it’s a bad time to get them,” he said. “They have a lot of problems off the pitch, but whether that will affect them on it, I don’t know.”
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