How the mighty have fallen when Rangers, who down through history have left most of Scottish football cursing their luck after fruitless visits to Ibrox, are reduced to rueing the unkindness of fate. Following their draw with League 2 Albion Rovers in the Scottish Cup, midfielder Ian Black said yesterday: “We just never got a break.”
Some would argue Rangers got handed plenty of good fortune in the quarter-final tie, considering the lateness of their equaliser, the scruffy and desperate nature of Bilel Mohsni’s goal and the fact its legitimacy was so hotly disputed by the plucky part-time team of tax officers and supermarket workers. Black, though, was bullish when asked if the players were left embarrassed by their performance. “No, and you have to look at the possession stats and the number of shots they had at our goal,” he said. “I think we restricted them to maybe one or two. They got an opportunity and scored. We had a lot of possession and shots, although they weren’t all on target. There were ricochets in the box and we just never got a break.” Did the team have a problem playing at Ibrox at the moment? No, he said, home games weren’t an issue. “It’s just a question of getting a bit of luck there.”
Rangers get an immediate chance to make amends in the eyes of a demanding Govan faithful when they entertain Airdrie tomorrow and a win will secure them the League 1 title. Black predicted the near- calamity in the cup would be forgotten if they clinch the title but 24 hours afterwards it wasn’t going away.
If they had lost would it have been Rangers’ worst-ever result? There was 1967 and Berwick Rangers, of course, but this was a home tie for a squad in a higher tax bracket, able to shop at all the quality stores. Rangers are expected to win their league –and they are indeed romping it – and their fans are desperate for them to remind the top-flight of their existence via the cup. But sometimes winning isn’t enough. “They come to see us win, and we win. What else do they want?” said Black. He was asked about the specifics of the performance, the dependency on the high-ball. “Every time we got the ball in the last third they had every man in the box. You tell me a game plan to try and play through 11 bodies and hit the target. It was like they’d put up a wall in front of the goal and we had to break it down. Sometimes you’ve got to look at the bigger picture, get the ball wide and try and beat them with an aerial threat. But their keeper was catching it, getting in the way and the ball would always roll to one of their guys. There were times we lacked urgency but I thought we worked hard in the game.”
Did he think the equaliser was never going to come? “There’s a point when it crosses your mind. When their players were talking to you – there was a bit of banter – you think: ‘Oh, here we go again.’ I’m not going to say what was said; that’s for the pitch. But credit to them: they had a game plan, stuck to it, it paid off and so they’ll be happy.”
The Copland Road cognoscenti made their unhappiness known. As someone not unfamiliar with the heat of the crowd, Black was asked how the team, and especially the younger players, were affected by criticism from the stands. “You’ve got to try and blank it out and try and concentrate on your own game,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how well you are doing – there will always be someone putting you down. Over the course of my career it’s made me stronger. It’s hard to ignore at times but you’ve just got to shut it out. The fans pay their money and have the right to say what they want but sometimes they don’t help us by getting on our backs. Even when we are winning some aren’t happy.”
Earlier this season Black was hit with a three-game ban after being found guilty of betting on 140 matches, some against his own team. He apologised to Rangers fans and admitted he was lucky not to be sacked by the club. He said yesterday that not only had manager Ally McCoist stood by him but the whole squad, too. Black’s performance on Sunday was among those criticised but the player added: “I must be doing something right for the manager to keep me in. I’ve played every game and I’ve been consistent.”
Black also took the opportunity to defend McCoist against the criticism he’s received. “The manager has been given a team and a job to get us back to the Premiership. We won the league last year with kids, we’ve brought in experience this year and we haven’t been beat. What else do the fans want? The boys are working hard and we want to win this league, for the fans and for ourselves, to get the club back to where it should be.
Credit to the manager and the staff for doing their job. We haven’t been beat so I don’t know what else they can ask for.”
In Sunday’s aftermath McCoist, as is traditional in such situations, wouldn’t discuss the semi-final against Dundee United until the replay has been won.
But Black took the question on. “If we win it I’m more than confident we can take anybody on our day. Every club has bad days. Celtic have had them.
They played Morton [in the League Cup] and lost and everyone slaughtered them for two days.
“People will slaughter us for not beating Albion Rovers. I suppose you guys have to write about something. I’ll confident we’ll win the replay and the league and then we’ll see how much talk there is of us being champions.”
Of course they might need a bit of luck along the way.
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