Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst must have hardly caught a wink since Wednesday’s Europa League final defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt, turning over the extent to which he should refresh his team for Hampden. Images of the spent nature of so many of his personnel at the conclusion of the Seville showpiece would have been his nocturnal bogeymen. The heat, having nothing to show for more than two hours straining every sinew, has to have been utterly draining, physically and mentally. for his players. Two-and-a-bit-days recovery time appears woefully insufficient to dare consider fielding a near-identical XI.
It is unthinkable for Rangers to emerge from the national stadium with nothing, and therefore end a season of so much expectation trophyless. Not least because the club have claimed only a solitary major honour over the past decade. Even if it was craved above all others – at least until this week – courtesy of last season’s stunning title success ending Celtic’s record 10-in-a-row bid. That, though, can’t sustain them forever.
Rangers were creatively-challenged in midweek, and too often struggled to be impactful in the final third. Their Dutch manager should be bold in addressing that, and give Alex Lowry his head. The 18-year-old playmaker possesses the impishness and inventiveness that was cried out for against Frankfurt. Moreover, it was only a week ago he netted against Hearts in a 3-1 win at Tynecastle. Kemar Roofe may only have been thrown on for the last five minutes in the final, but it stands to reason he must have largely recovered from his recent injury problems to earn even that. He is worth risking when the absence of a genuine striker as a focal point hampered Rangers in midweek.
In Borna Barisic being ruled out for Scottish Cup decider, Calvin Bassey, the Ibrox side’s stand-out the other night, surely will be shunted to left-back and Leon Balogun dropped into the 22-year-old’s vacated central-defensive berth. And, in perhaps a last hurrah, the experience of Steven Davis as a replacement for the toiling Ryan Jack would make sense. The veteran was tidy once assuming such duties in Seville. If Aaron Ramsey is fit, he should be given the chance to atone for his shoot-out miss that sent the Europa League Frankfurt’s way.
Owing to different reasons, Hearts manager Robbie Neilson faces possibly even more ruminations in deciding his Hampden line-up. Recent injury absentees Craig Halkett, John Souttar, and Cammy Devlin all were given run-outs in the cinch Premiership-concluding loss last Saturday. That should result in Halkett being deployed in their back three. Not with Rangers-bound Souttar, though. And not because of his imminent move. The Scotland international appeared for only 22 minutes. That represents his only senior involvement since March. Liam Boyce – who picked up an injury in the Rangers defeat – is clearly not 100 per cent, having missed a bounce game in midweek. However, his influence on how the Gorgie side functions demands a gamble be taken on him to see him alongside Barrie McKay in the two behind Ellis Simms. He might not last 90, but the Irishman shouldn’t be held in reserve for a potential introduction later on. By then, the die could be cast.