STUART McCall won’t announce the Rangers team for his first match in charge, against Livingston today, until the very last minute, as he tries to do what his most recent predecessors have struggled to do this term and find the winning formula.
Numbers are not the issue. Finding a starting line-up possessed of enough self-belief is the biggest test for the man who has been handed the task of reigniting the Ibrox club’s promotion push and engineering a way back to the top flight.
Thus far McCall has been limited to two training sessions but must still find a way to gift the players the bounce that is so often associated with the arrival of a new manager – even one handed the role on a short-term basis.
Having watched from the sidelines, as first Ally McCoist and then Kenny McDowell struggled in vain to get the best out of players who have been shorn of confidence by an inconsistent run of results, McCall knows that there is no easy fix. In recent weeks, they have slipped to third place in the Championship, five points behind second-placed Hibs – and a massive 22 points behind league leaders Hearts – but the play-offs remain a realistic route to the Premiership if the new man at the helm can imbue them with more belief and a team ethic and get them to understand the urgency needed.
“Unlike at Motherwell, where we struggled to name a squad of 18, I think we’ve got 20 available. But, if I’m honest, even if you ask the lads or anyone who has watched Rangers, you could ask a dozen people and they’ll all pick a different team because there hasn’t been a consistent pattern and [there’s been] indifferent form.
“Even if you look at Kenny’s last few games, he’s changed the front two on numerous occasions, he’s tried everything in that department, the defence has been changed, the midfield has been changed, you’re just trying to look for a winning formula and, hopefully, we can find that on Saturday.
“I’ve been in the game long enough to know it can change very easily and quickly, both ways. You could be flying and then have a bad run, likewise you could be in a bit of a rut and then change. The new board came in, great, and I’ve come in until the end of the season and myself and Kenny [Black, his assistant manager] will try and help and guide as much as we can. The players know it’s down to them. Obviously, the training, as you’d expect, has been quite lively.
“There will be one or two who will think they could have been given a better chance but, since Kenny took over, he mixed it up, changing the strikers and midfielders and did what he could to give people a chance.
“I’ve said to the lads if you are not in the team then get your mind set to make an impression the next time in training and, if you get an opportunity, go and take it. Everyone hopes we get that bounce but it doesn’t always happen. You never want to play against a team with a new manager but when I was with Motherwell we had to go up to Ross County when Jim McIntyre and Billy Dodds had just been given the job and we managed to win there. So there are exceptions to the rule.”
Like many who have followed the soap opera from the sidelines, he knew all about the Newcastle United influx but what he said he hadn’t been aware of was the fact that, in reality, the St James’ Park youngsters offer him so few options.
“Remie Streete is out with illness and injury, Kevin Mbabu is lacking match football, Shane Ferguson I don’t think has even been across the border and has a long-term knee injury. Bigirimana has a medical condition and is seeing a consultant up here but I doubt he will be available in the near future.”
In fact, the only positive is Haris Vudkic, who has impressed and is likely to feature against the league’s bottom side at Ibrox today. “One out of five ain’t bad! He has been outstanding in training and is bright and bubbly. He has shown glimpses and now he is getting more up to match speed. He hasn’t played a lot of football but he is certainly a very talented individual and he has been really bright in training.
“I was coming in thinking three or four of these lads would be up and running but that ain’t happening. But we have to get on with it.”
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