MOTHERWELL manager Ian Baraclough believes there is a collective desire within Scottish football for Rangers to defeat his team in the Premiership play-off final.
Ibrox is sold out for tonight’s first leg as Rangers look to close in on a return to the top flight in the shortest possible time frame since their insolvency in 2012 consigned them to fourth-tier football.
Motherwell are equally determined to avoid being relegated for the first time in 31 years but Baraclough feels financial considerations mean there is a greater will within the game for Rangers to be playing Premiership football next season.
Baraclough insists the outcome of the play-offs must be determined on merit and that referees Bobby Madden and Craig Thomson, who will handle tonight’s match at Ibrox and the second leg at Fir Park on Sunday respectively, have crucial roles to play.
“Every media outlet, TV revenue, is generated by massive games and I can understand why from a commercial point of view people want Rangers in the top flight,” said Baraclough. “But teams have to earn the right to go and get in there. We just hope that it’s fought out by two teams and it doesn’t get overheated despite the passion shown. There will be the need for strong refereeing and some strong decisions to be made and you hope all that side of it is done properly which I’m sure it will be.
“You just want the team that is victorious to have gone and earned it. I get the feeling that there is a big contingent of people behind Rangers. Definitely. Everyone’s coming out and saying that they want the biggest and best teams in the Premiership and I can understand that side of it. But, for us, it’s about upsetting the odds. We have been written off because of the season we have had, the league position we finished in and the size of our club compared to Rangers.
We have been written off because of the season we have hadIan Baraclough
“Is that unfair? Not really. I’d rather be in that position. I enjoy upsetting the odds if possible. That’s fine because a lot of expectation, a lot of pressure, goes on to the opposition.”
Motherwell owner Les Hutchison has stressed that the Lanarkshire club are in a strong enough position off the pitch to survive relegation without the need for job losses or major cuts to the playing staff.
But as comforting as that may be for Baraclough, it does not lessen his desire to avoid having a relegation on his CV so soon into his tenure at Fir Park.
“Nobody wants to go down to a lower league,” said the 44-year-old Englishman. “We’ve had conversations with the owner and he has come out and gone public with it. The club is on a sound footing. But we don’t want to be putting our plans forward from the Championship. We want to be doing it from the Premiership.
“Les is a very measured person. He is a successful businessman. When he came in, he could see what this club means to everybody. It was a message he wanted to get across, and he did it very, very well.
“Yes, we are fighting to stay in the division, but when he said jobs won’t be lost, and that we’ve got to build and not cut, that was a really powerful message. It does put people at ease. But for myself, the players and everyone connected with the playing side, we’re fighting for everybody. We’re the ones who have got to go out and do it.
“You have to have a siege mentality at certain times. We have tried to keep very close-knit this week and tried to keep the players focused. It’s not so easy with modern technology, social media and such like, but we have tried to advise the boys to just concentrate on the job in hand and try to enjoy it.
“You’re doing a job you love. It’s the same for me. I’m enjoying this week, I’m enjoying the challenge of getting the team ready. When the teams walk out on Thursday night, there will be a fantastic roar from the crowd. That’s why we’re in the game.
“It’s the most important game in my career so far. It’s a great challenge. I know the magnitude of it for this football club and everybody connected with it. We have good players and we are not going to Ibrox just to make the numbers up.”