STUART McCall has told his team to focus on the game and not the occasion when Motherwell become the first top-flight team to play Rangers since the Ibrox club were re-launched as a new company.
Motherwell are sure to be met with a highly-charged atmosphere when they travel to Ibrox in the Scottish Communities League Cup third round. Rangers drew more than 45,000 fans for their most recent Irn-Bru Third Division game, Sunday’s 4-1 win over Montrose, symptomatic of the defiant response since the newco were denied entry to the Scottish Premier League.
McCall was a Rangers player when Motherwell last won at Ibrox – in 1997 when Owen Coyle’s double helped keep Motherwell out of a relegation play-off and delayed the home team’s ninth title in a row. The Lanarkshire side have not beaten Rangers since James McFadden scored the only goal in a Fir Park Boxing Day clash in 2002 but Ibrox manager Ally McCoist has classed the SPL leaders as favourites despite his bigger player budget.
McCall says there is little to choose between the teams and is optimistic his players will take encouragement from the goalless draw they secured in Govan in May and focus on the football rather than the off-field issues.
“The record we’ve got at Ibrox, it’s very hard to classify us as favourites,” said the Motherwell manager, whose team let slip a two-goal lead to draw 3-3 at Aberdeen on Sunday. “For us, this is the toughest draw we could have got, and for them a difficult one as well. It has the makings of a really good game. It’s probably an even game, a hard one to call.
“If we can produce what we did up at Aberdeen on Sunday in an attacking form, I’ll be really pleased. They have been through tough times but they have still managed to bring in quality players, so this will be a tough test. If you take Stevie Hammell out, we have a really young back line. The crowd will be like a 12th man for them but we’re playing quite well away from home. It just has the makings of a really good game.”
McCall admits his players will need to deal with the atmosphere in order to proceed to the quarter-finals. Rangers are looking to avoid a second cup exit in consecutive weeks after losing to Queen of the South on penalties in the Ramsdens Cup.
“It will be a little like a siege mentality playing an SPL team who happen to be top,” McCall said. “The crowd will be right behind them and we have got to quieten them as quickly as we possibly can. I’m sure they will go on to win the league this season by a big stretch but they will want to put their mark on cup competitions and definitely against an SPL side.”