PERHAPS with a little understatement, Dean Shiels admits he has “never been that popular” with Hearts fans.
The Rangers attacker thinks it might be something to do with the winner he netted for Hibs in an Edinburgh derby that as good as guaranteed qualification for Europe by securing third place in the SPL in 2004-5.
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The problem for Shiels, as with all too many in the Ibrox club’s ranks, is that he won’t be a whole heap more popular with the home fans than those filling the away end when Rangers seek to slow the title charge of the Championship-winners-in-waiting from Gorgie at Ibrox on Friday night.
Shiels, who is believed to be wanted by Partick Thistle in this window, features in the raft of Rangers signings since the club sought to make its way up the league post-liquidation who seem to have fallen into a footballing black hole after being enticed to Govan on fat salaries. The forward rarely started in two and a half years under Ally McCoist. He has not made the first XI in the three games since Kenny McDowall was promoted and McCoist sent on gardening leave.
Yet, this is the same player who was among those shortlisted for Player of the Year in his last season with Kilmarnock. Meanwhile, Ian Black was considered among the best combative midfielders before swapping Hearts for Rangers. And Kris Boyd scored freely for a Kilmarnock battling at the bottom of the Premiership last season, but simply cannot find his goal touch in a Rangers team winning most weeks in Scotland’s second tier.
Put it to Shiels that something seems amiss that so many players doing well in Scotland upper tier have been unable to replicate their form in the reduced playing environs in which Rangers have found themselves, and his reply is disarmingly honest.
“I’d agree,” he says. “Look at [David] Templeton and a lot of players. Circumstances dictate that, whether it be style of play, formations or the player being poor when selected. I think players have to be big enough to say we haven’t been good enough as a group – especially this season. Obviously I haven’t played enough this season but I’m talking about the team in general. We can rectify that by working hard on the training pitch and turn that round.”
There is no faith in such an outcome, or that Shiels can turn around his Ibrox career. He makes a gallant attempt to express confidence in both being possible. “It will be interesting to see, if we beat them, how they react to that. I’ve been surprised at how well Hearts have done. They deserve a lot of credit for that. Hearts have made fewer errors than us, scored more goals and created more chances. If you look throughout the whole season they deserve to be where they are. But there’s a long way to go. We’ve got to keep believing. Leads like that have been blown before. We’ve got to win every game and put pressure on as much as we can.
“I’m no different to any player in the squad – I want to start games. I feel as if I’ve contributed bits and pieces when I have come in or started but everyone wants to play all the time. I think things dictate your form – I don’t want to go into it too much – but I’m just wanting to help the team.
“I’ll train hard every day to be ready when picked. I’m not sure if the change in manager will make a difference. My minutes to goals ratio was the best in League One last year and has been quite good this year.”
Shiels isn’t expecting a call from any other club in the transfer window. Or at least that is his public take. “Obviously it’s an open market and there’s been talk of a lot of players leaving. But I’m just trying to work hard and get into the starting team at Rangers. I’m not looking at leaving.
“I think you’ve got to believe in yourself or no one else will. I think that comes from being mentally strong if you’re in and out, in and out. If you get five games in a row it’s going to help but that’s out of my hands. I just have to do my best whenever the team needs me.
“It’s frustrating. I’m paid at the end of every month to play football and you want to be playing but you’ve got to be professional and work hard.
“I think I work as hard as anyone in training. I think you see that when I’m selected.
“No player is happy if they’re not playing. At the minute, all I’m focusing on is getting this club in the top tier. It’s what I aimed to do when I got here – and what I still intend to do.”
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