THERE was no flim-flam from Kenny McDowall when asked the other day how he felt about his Championship team being written off ahead of next Sunday’s League Cup semi-final with the Premiership league leaders.
“I can understand that, and there is probably as big a gap between the teams as there has ever been,” said the acting Rangers manager. “Celtic are favourites for it and rightly so.”
There is no requirement for McDowall to say and do the right things where the first meeting between Glasgow’s two biggest clubs in more than 33 months is concerned. It isn’t a case that he hopes to cause a major upset at the national stadium to strengthen his credentials to be appointed permanent successor to Ally McCoist. He demonstrated last week that he really doesn’t want to be holding the fort subsequent to McCoist being placed on gardening leave by handing in his notice. A supposed 12-month period, as soon as Rangers do agree their latest emergency loan with Mike Ashley – probably – it is likely that pay-offs with McCoist and McDowall will be agreed to cut their professional ties with the Ibrox club.
It can be said with some certainty then that McDowall’s one and only experience of leading his team against Celtic will come in a week’s time. If he were to somehow be able to bridge the yawning chasm in quality between the sides for one afternoon, it would be some success to take into his dotage. He accepted he has more to gain than lose.
“That is probably the case. We are not used to being underdogs, but this time we are,” he said. “ We are looking forward to the game and hopefully we can put in a performance and get ourselves into a final. I think it will be a fantastic occasion. It has been three years and it has finally arrived. It will be massive because it has been so long, but this is what you are in the game for. It is a cup game and we know anything can happen. You need a bit of luck on the day, but you need to play well on the day as well.
You want to take part in games as big as this and I am looking forward to it. It would be fantastic for the club to win it and our supporters who have been with us for the last three-and-a-half to four years following us everywhere. It would be great for them.”
A great for the permanently put-upon Ibrox players who have flunked a challenge for the Championship in humiliating fashion. Richard Foster is one of the many in the squads of both sides – contrary to the perception – to have played in the fixture before Rangers 2012 liquidation put an end to such meetings on a regular basis The defender was a member of the Rangers team that played in the infamous February 2011 Scottish Cup replay at Celtic Park, wherein the Ibrox side had three players red-carded, home manager Neil Lennon had an altercation with then Rangers assistant Ally McCoist leading to a ridiculous, over-the-top reaction that resulted in much hand-wringing and nonsense changes to the laws of the land.
“The game was disappointing because we lost,” he said. “In terms of the fixture itself, though, it was just incredible and the atmosphere is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced in my career. You can only fully appreciate it when you have played in one of them. The pace of the game is 100mph for the first 85 minutes usually and they are great games to play in. But they come with a lot of pressure.”
Uncharitably, it might be said that the pressure Rangers players are under does not relate to possible success or failure, but the nature of the reverse most are in no doubt will come there way. “We are going into the game knowing we are the underdogs but we still think we can win the game,” Foster countered. “It’s the cup, so you always have a chance. You see shocks all the time, when teams that aren’t expected to win. We aren’t going into the game fearing a big defeat. If anything we are going into the game knowing we’ll have to be on our guard and wary of that, but we are not going into it fearing of losing by a big scoreline.”
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