IT WASN’T supposed to be like this. Rangers did not splurge £22 million on player wages across the past three years to be left praying for a Motherwell collapse to make the top tier at first time of asking. Gretna completed that entire journey – three straight titles, it should be noted, for the sum of £6m. There was something of an outcry when their wage bill in Scotland’s fourth tier topped £500,000. A figure that wouldn’t even cover two-third of the salary of deposed, but still being paid, former Ibrox manager Ally McCoist.
Rangers’ filleting by Ian Baraclough’s side in Thursday’s first leg of the Premiership play-off final laid bare their myriad deficiencies. They may have significantly improved in the three months they have been under the charge of Stuart McCall. Motherwell’s 3-1 win within their own, packed-out, environs was an indication that it cannot be dressed up how ordinary they remain.
All that matters now is whether they can conjure up an extraordinary second leg at Fir Park this afternoon to prevent their lower-league status continuing. Rangers have never been faced with the situation that awaits them. To mess up monumentally and fail to step up from the Championship with the profound advantage of the country’s second biggest wage would be another stain at a club that has been covered in them in recent years.
Kenny Miller put himself through a re-run of Thursday’s first leg when he got home later that night. The 35-year-old managed to cheer himself up a fraction in doing so. “Listen it was what it was. As disappointed as were, I don’t think there was too much in the game in the first half,” he suggested. “We lost two bad goals but we probably had the majority of possession and had a couple of good chances ourselves. Their ’keeper has pulled off two good saves. But if you lose three goals in any game you are going to find it tough to get a result. Our goal late on has given us a lifeline. Obviously we have to make sure we don’t give away anything cheaply on Sunday and, cliché, get that first goal.”
Ian Baraclough configuring Motherwell to attack with alacrity when the opportunity presented itself did not wrong-foot Rangers, maintained Miller, who can see the value of giving Kris Boyd, his old striker partner from better days at Ibrox, a start this afternoon.
“You know with the players they have that Motherwell are a threat,” he said. “They are quite good going forward. Any time we were in trouble it was the ball breaking down 20 to 30 yards from their goal and them breaking in that first half and even the second half to an extent. Their third goal is a breakaway and another poor goal, considering the timing of it. It was a terrible start to the second half for us, another breakaway.
“We’ll need to look at that to make sure it doesn’t happen because it happened, off the top of my head, five or six times in that game and had there been a better final ball or better decision made they might have had a few more chances. It’s something we will definitely need to look at going into the game on Sunday because they have the lead and there’s no need for them to come out and play open football and allow us to play our way. It’s not about how they play, for us, but us raising the level of our performance.”
The level of player in the Rangers squad will need to be raised this summer whether or not an escape act is performed this afternoon. Miller will remain for that overhaul because he has made enough appearances to activate a one-year extension on the 12-month contract he signed last year. The intention was to play his part in ensuring he would be playing top-flight football out of Ibrox to bring the curtain down on his career. Two years in the Championship was not on the agenda.
“We set out to win the league. The next step is obviously promotion. We’re still well in that, the game is far from over. We have given ourselves an uphill task. In front of almost 50,000, you would expect to put in a better performance and come away with a positive result, but football’s a funny old game. It doesn’t go your way all the time. It’s important we regroup. We can’t get too down about the result. We have to make sure we right the wrong of it.
“Obviously, I’d much rather be playing in the Premiership than the Championship, but if that’s what it’s going to take, another year to get back, then that’s what it’s going to take. I am fully focused and fully believe we can turn this around.”