Rangers on verge of special season, says McCulloch

Lee McCulloch knows his side have a hard game against Albion Rovers but is targeting three trophies. Picture: SNS
Lee McCulloch knows his side have a hard game against Albion Rovers but is targeting three trophies. Picture: SNS
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THE domestic treble has long held a special place in Rangers’ history. The Ibrox club were the first to achieve it, back in 1948-49. They also collected the most recent, in 2002-03.

In total, they have been Scottish champions, Scottish Cup winners and Scottish League Cup winners in the same season on a record seven occasions.

It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that some traditionalists are baulking at the current talk of Ally McCoist’s team winning a treble this season.

Former Rangers midfielder Alex Rae, in his role as a radio pundit, was among those to observe that securing the League 1 title, Ramsdens Cup and Scottish Cup over the course of the next three months, while no mean feat for McCoist’s team, should not be considered a treble to stand alongside the previous clean sweeps.

But the man bidding to hold the silverware in question aloft over the coming weeks begs to differ. Rangers captain Lee McCulloch insists there will be no ambiguity in his team’s dressing-room about the merit of such an achievement.

“Well, it would be three trophies and that, to me, is a treble,” said McCulloch. “Why not? It’s not our fault that we’re not in the Premiership.

“I’ll be shouting about it, whatever we can win this season. People can talk and we’ve already been written off for the Scottish Cup – it’s been said [by Owen Coyle] that we’re not even in the top five to win it.

“That’s just part and parcel of playing at Rangers. You take it on the chin and try to prove people wrong and that’s what we’re doing.”

McCulloch caused a stir a few weeks ago when he suggested the difference in standards between the Premiership and the lower divisions was minimal. While he feels his comments were misinterpreted by some, he stands by them after a weekend which saw the names of five teams from outwith the top flight go into the Scottish Cup quarter-final draw.

“I said the gap isn’t as big but that got twisted a wee bit by a few people,” he added. “What I meant was that the gap between the bottom six clubs in the Premiership to some of the teams in the lower divisions isn’t as big as people think.

“Maybe I didn’t explain that well enough or whatever, but I think the results are there and the standard is there for everyone to see.”

Rangers have yet to face Premiership opposition this season and will not do so until the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup at the earliest, if they defeat Albion Rovers in their last eight tie at Ibrox.

McCulloch has no doubts they will handle such a test better than they did last year when their Scottish Cup campaign ended in a comprehensive 3-0 defeat by Dundee United.

“We’re in a much better place than we were last year,” he said. “We have a bigger, better squad. We have more quality. The statistics tell you that. We’ve had more clean sheets (22) and scored more goals (96) so far.

“It would be good to gauge how far we have come this season by playing a Premiership team. Last season, we beat Motherwell in the League Cup but then were well beaten by Inverness in that tournament and also by Dundee United in the Scottish Cup.

“But I think we are better equipped this season. That doesn’t mean to say we’ll go out and wipe the floor with a Premiership team. But it will be good to get an idea, just to see where we are.”

Last month saw McCulloch and his team-mates reject a projected salary cut as chief executive Graham Wallace undertakes his cost-saving review at a club where murmurings of fresh financial turmoil are never far from the surface.

But, speaking as he promoted the sale of quarter-season tickets for the rest of the season, McCulloch insisted there has been no disruption among the playing staff.

“It wasn’t unsettling,” he said. “We just focus on the football in the dressing-room, trying to win games. The boys have done that and it’s a credit to them.

“The last month has been brilliant. I’ve been loving it. Results have gone well. We had a great result and performance against Dunfermline last Friday night. It’s good to get back to putting in good performances.

“Nothing changes. It’s just about putting in hard work every day and staying positive and keeping all the boys together.

“When the club went into administration, the prospect of getting to a Scottish Cup final was something you didn’t really think about, to be honest.

“It was just about making sure everything was alright and I suppose now everything is alright and you’re looking at what we can do, what can we go and win. Let’s get some medals and go and be a successful Rangers team again.

“There are a lot of boys in there that are desperate for medals and I’m no different. So it’s just focusing all our energy now on medals and success rather than thinking ‘Are we going to be alright now?’ We know we’re going to be alright now, so that’s half the battle.

“It would mean the world to the supporters to win the Scottish Cup, of course it would. It’s a chance as players, and it’d mean the world to us and the management, to give something back to the fans for their support.

“Not just their support in general, but since administration, has been phenomenal. But right now it’s a chance to win the Scottish Cup and that’s all it is. Winning the league has always been first and foremost for us this season and anything else on top of that is a bonus.”


SPFL League 1

With 23 games of the season played, Rangers are 23 points clear of second-placed Dunfermline Athletic and are already considered certainties to win the title.

Ramsdens Cup

Rangers are only 90 minutes away from this trophy. Having beaten Albion Rovers, Berwick Rangers, Queen of the South and Stenhousemuir in previous rounds, they take on Raith Rovers in the final at Easter Road on Sunday 6 April.

William Hill Scottish Cup

Last Friday’s 4-0 win over Dunfermline sealed Rangers’ place in the quarter-finals and Sunday’s draw was kind, throwing up a home tie against Albion Rovers. Furthermore, both semi-finals will take place at Ibrox, meaning the SFA will hand Rangers home advantage in the last four if they make it.