IT COULD be more than unlucky for some. No one needs telling Stuart McCall the 13th game of his Rangers tenure that arrives this afternoon could be his last. It is unlikely, given his side’s 2-1 lead going into the Ibrox second leg of their Premiership play-off quarter-final against Queen of the South. For the 50-year-old, it also has to be unthinkable.
“I can’t allow myself to feel like that because I don’t like negativity creeping in,” he said. “It’s a fair question but I haven’t given it a thought. I know you probably think I am lying but I haven’t. The missus says on the plus side we will be able to get a holiday if I am not here. You have to try and get positives out of it.”
‘The missus says we can get a holiday if I am not here’
The encounter that will decide the team that goes forward to entertain Hibernian in Wednesday night’s first leg of the play-off semi-final is of a monumental nature, the like of which no incarnation of the Ibrox side has ever faced.
Failure to win top-flight promotion would cost McCall and half his squad their employment at the club and condemn it to an even more uncertain future than it seems to have been permanently wrestling with. Mercifully, even the most misguided no longer trot out that baloney about how another season in the Championship could be the best thing for Rangers.
It was put to McCall the other day that the only two-legged confrontations of a similar magnitude he would have known at the Ibrox club were the Champions League qualifiers he played in during the 1990s. These were described as “death or glory” occasions to him. More like “death or death” he joked – a reference to the fact that in seven years he experienced five knock-outs in European qualifying campaigns, with two in one season.
“We had some good ones, aye,” said the Rangers manager. “I suppose when you look back we did have a couple of games like this, but it is new to everybody. It is new to the fans and I think the support have got a big part. And we will lead them right to that final whistle. I think it will be quite an open game.
“It is hand in hand. Sometimes players can lift fans, and fans can lift players, I think we have seen that even in the short space of time I have been here. I think the players lifted the supporters in the home game against Hearts here. For the first 45 minutes we were excellent. It was our best 45 minutes of the season. And when we needed them, when we were down to ten men and we had to hang on for the final whistle, the fans lifted the players to hang on in there. Whichever club you support, you need everyone.”
The £5 admission fee will ensure Rangers have everyone; a first sell-out of the season predicted at Ibrox this afternoon. More importantly, in the victory at Palmerston last week they had a sturdier look about them. Crucial to that was youngster Andy Murdoch screening the backline in a 3-5-2 formation that McCall said he was tempted to stick with and tempted to change.
An attacking coach by nature, he was at pains to stress he hadn’t given in to caution in deploying defensive wing-backs, but he did not require to justify the system change. Rangers seemed more comfortable in their own skin and, as McCall highlighted, the team balance allowed them to carry a potency that they have often lacked.
“What we are more confident about now from when we came in is that, with the way we play and the players we have in the team and the squad, we will create opportunities.
“I look back on the last home game against Falkirk [when we drew 2-2]. I thought we were good for 15 minutes, defended really poorly for two goals and were good last 20 minutes, when their goalie had two or three outstanding saves, and we hit the post. And even at Hearts [in the 2-2 draw]. We’ve had good, solid performances. We have had performances that allow us to be confident going into this game that we’ll create opportunities. But we have to be strong defensively.
“It was important to get a lead when we did in the first leg but questions could have been asked of us when they clawed it back to one each. What pleased me most was our response then. With 15 minutes to go I would have happily taken one-all but I would never tell the lads to sit back.
“The belief in each other is now there in the squad and that has been built up because people’s individual performances have improved. Yeah, we still have the little blip to lose a goal here and there but the middle to front play has been encouraging.
“It means if we do lose a goal, or do go behind, we can look around at each other and think we have enough on the park, and enough on the bench, to go and get the goals we need.”
In pursuit of a goal they desperately need to reach.