RESILIENCE, confidence, momentum. Three words that dominate the narrative in football every weekend from the top of the Scottish Premiership right down to the bottom of the Lowland League. Three words which, until very recently, have been absent from Ibrox in 2015 and, in all honesty, throughout most of the campaign.
That is slowly beginning to change. Stuart McCall’s impact may not have been instant, as evidenced by successive home draws against Livingston and Alloa Athletic, but his draw-a-line-in-the-sand approach has allowed the beleaguered first team to start afresh and they are beginning to piece together a previously shattered self-belief.
Such a managerial strategy already appears to be paying dividends. Prior to last weekend’s win against Hibs, the new boss didn’t dismiss the possibility that Rangers would do the unthinkable and drop out of the play-off places entirely. Two matches later they hold the upper hand over their Edinburgh rivals in the race for second place.
Saturday’s victory over Cowdenbeath wasn’t vintage Rangers – they’ve even played better at times this season – but considering their dreadful form since the turn of the year it was a massive step in the right direction, and gave them back-to-back wins for the first time since early January.
“It was important that we didn’t slip up after such a good performance last week,” said McCall after the match. “All we can do is focus on our performances and do the best we can and keep picking up the three points, but [the Hibs result] certainly helped and the momentum and belief continues to grow.
“When I first came into the club I think everyone could see the morale and confidence of the players was low. More performances and results like that, and it can only build back up.
“It looked as though we could have shot ourselves in the foot like we did against Alloa. It would have been a massive blow to come off that park with the amount of chances we created.”
That slip, as it always seems to, came from defender Bilel Mohsni. In fairness to the big centre-back, his wayward pass which led to Kudus Oyenuga’s 76th minute equaliser would have been nothing more than a footnote had his team-mates up the other end been able to add to Nicky Clark’s close-range finish, which in itself shouldn’t have been the opener after the hosts passed up a plethora of chances in a completely dominant first-half display.
Even in the minutes leading up to Mohsni’s error, Clark and Kenny Miller each missed glorious chances to put the game beyond Cowdenbeath, though it doesn’t get away from the fact Rangers still looked wholly comfortable at the time, and that this flaw in the Tunisian’s game remains despite the change in managers. “It’s a silly goal to give away,” admitted McCall. “If you look at his [Mohsni’s] performance, he did so many great things defensively, but he’s got that little rick in him, and he’s got to cut it out of his game, and he knows that.
“All of us as a group need to cut out the sloppiness. The concentration and focus has always got to be on.”
Thankfully for Rangers, they were saved by a stunning effort from Darren McGregor.
The right-back strode onto a short lay-off 25 yards out and arrowed a superb first-time shot into the far corner. Substitute Haris Vuckic then put some sheen on the final result with a quick double after the crestfallen visitors allowed the Slovenian to twice waltz through their defence.
McGregor’s strike was the hammer blow, and for the home support it prevented a horrible feeling of deja-vu.
“I think a lot of people would have thought that. When the goal goes in, your mind does go back and think, ‘Oh no, not again’,” said man of the match McGregor afterwards. “But I think we showed the resilience that was missing in weeks gone by to come away with a 4-1 win.
“With the new gaffer coming in we’re all confident, we’re all wanting to keep the jersey, and the guys on the bench are all wanting to come into the side. The next seven games are crucial if we’re to finish second.”
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