We need to win in Vienna, says Rangers' Gary McAllister
Although thoughts are currently focussed on the necessity not to lose further ground in the Premiership today at Dundee following the midweek defeat at home by Aberdeen, by late this afternoon attentions will be firmly trained on continental competition.
Victory over Rapid Vienna on Thursday is the requirement for Steven Gerrard’s side to claim a place in the last 32 of the Europa League. If that is achieved, they would be joined by Celtic in the event of Brendan Rodgers’ men avoiding defeat at home by Salzburg on the same evening.
Scotland hasn’t had two representatives in Europe post-Christmas since Celtic and Rangers were joined at that stage by Aberdeen in 2008. The efforts of the two Glasgow clubs in harvesting coefficient points this season – the total earned in this campaign greater than in any since that high point a decade ago – has already moved Scotland up five places in the Uefa rankings to sit 20th. That matters to 57-times capped Scotland international McAllister as he ponders a final Group G encounter an entirely recast team have worked wonders to turn into an all-or-nothing clash.
“What we’ve created is a cup final, isn’t it? There’s no other way to look at it and that’s going to be the approach,” said the 53-year-old. “It’s big for the club, the kudos that comes with it, for the fans as well and thinking ahead to the coefficient as well for Scottish football will be big. If both of us could get through, it would be a big night for Scottish football, no doubt about that and it’s a massive game. I don’t how many tickets we’ve got, is it a couple of thousand, but I think there might be more there. It will be a great game to be involved in as a player.”
McAllister accepts that Rangers have surpassed all expectations, initially in becoming the first Scottish side to progress through four qualifying rounds of the Europa League, and then through arriving at the final match in their group with a chance to actually top it. However, he still has moments of regret in reflecting on a Group G campaign that has brought only one defeat – a 4-3 loss in controversial circumstances away to Spartak Moscow last month.
“If you had said to us when we played Shkupi right at the beginning [of the qualifiers], I would have said, ‘yeah’ [we have exceeded expectations],” McAllister said. “But as we’ve progressed, we’ve done well and got to the group stages. There’s been moments in the group, games you look back on, especially when the goal was [wrongly] disallowed in Moscow that could have put us in a different position.
“But I suppose the fact we might have been going into this game looking for a point and trying to protect something, you know what it’s like, it’s more difficult. We know what we need to do now. It’s not a case of going in there and looking for a draw, we need to win and when we’re on the front foot it probably suits us better.
“[The away record in Europe has been good] but also the performance level. The one for me is Maribor [with a scoreless draw in the second leg of the third round qualifier]. I thought we were excellent because they are a good team, Champions League pedigree. I was impressed with the players that night and especially from that performance the players grew and thought, ‘we can effect this competition’. The performances in Spain [with the 2-2 draw] and Moscow were both very good, although different results.”
The Rangers faithful have been enthralled by their continental adventures. Yet now gnawing at some is the concern over their championship challenge being weakened as a result of the rigours faced by a squad new to handling high-intensity games every three or fours days. By the end of December, the Ibrox side will have contested 38 games.
“That is effectively a season,” he said. “But whether it’s been suspensions or the way we’ve managed to change the personnel in the middle of the park, it’s worked okay up until now. We go into another seven days now of three games again, the games just seem to be coming, it’s like game, recovery, second day recovery, game but it’s not affected us until now. I don’t think we’ve looked tired, maybe occasions in games after long journeys, but over the piece it has been managed pretty well. Our sports science department have played a big part in that.
“The demands on the players have been massive – the amount of games – but what we’ve been trying to express to them is surely you’ve got to want that. We’ve got guys who, in between all these European ties and domestic games, have had to go and represent their countries as well. That’s what it is and if we’re fortunate enough to get to these stages next season, we want to get into the groups... and maybe in a different competition.”