A funny old game - It certainly is, Greavesie!
Having despatched Falkirk with the help of the referee bottling a penalty of the stonewall variety (and the red card that would have went with it), this put them onto 36 points with Rangers back on 31 points, but with the two away games against St. Mirren and Gretna in hand. All to play for, but how would we do in the next crucial six games? Let's face it, we hadn't exactly been setting the heather on fire whilst gathering sufficient points to keep us in the hunt.
First up was the Hearts game at Ibrox and after a reasonable opening Lee McCulloch fired us into that 18th minute lead which should have settled us down and let us finish the game off. Once again we failed to capitalise, let the opposition come back into the game and Hearts were duly rewarded with Velicka's 56th minute equaliser. I hate to say it but I could only see one team getting a winner in the game, and it wasn't us. Then just as we were all resigned to dropping a couple of points (and we couldn't have complained if we had), Santa Claus turned up a wee bit early in the guise of Hearts goalkeeper Kurskis who proceeded to throw the ball into his own net to gift us the much needed 3 points.
Despite the late win I was very subdued walking back down PRW. I was trying to think of the positives in the performance but couldn't come up with many. Quite frankly we had been awful and I was starting to think that the current squad just wouldn't be capable of lifting the title. My mind did drift back to the Craig Gordon incident at the beggardome when he did much the same thing and gifted Sellick 3 points so I managed to console myself with the thought that what goes around, comes around and maybe it was our turn to pull out improbable results when all seemed lost.
Anyway, on the journey back home I managed to depress myself with the thought that although we had won we just weren't value for money, not entertaining at all. This feeling of doom was compounded when listening to reports of the Motherwell game where the Fir Park side had brushed aside the sheepies, not only comfortably but apparently with some style. It got worse when the Radio 5 phone in had many Baggies callers phoning in to wax lyrical about the wonderful football Tony Mowbray has West Brom playing - not only that but winning football (their 4-2 win over Charlton sending them to the top of the Championship heap. My misery would be complete when Match of the Day had some great entertaining games on show, including Man City 4 Bolton 2, and Wigan 5 Blackburn 3.
So there was I bemoaning our abilities and pitiful performances, genuinely thinking that we just don't have it in us to take the SPL by the scruff of the neck (even playing 'ugly'). What in hell's name could lift my mood? Well I didn't have to wait long, did I? I popped the Inverness v Them game on LFO just before half-time to find out that Sellick were coasting it thanks to 2 Vinegar of Castlemilk goals and just as I was about to switch off - preep, preep, penalty! Now, this game could get interesting I thought. Perhaps the green and greys might actually slip a couple of points after all. Well by the 61st minute it was dreamland with Inverness deservedly 3-2 ahead and with Sellick failing yet again to come back I was beginning to think that they might just have lost that ability /luck/ magic stop-watch (take your pick) that sees them extricate themselves from situations like this more often than not. The only disappointment was the abject failure of officials, police and mhedia alike (three wise monkeys indeed) to deal with the shocking terrorist and sectarian bile emanating from the away 'support'. Still, I was in a much better frame of mind now (what a difference a day makes).
The following week it was their turn for the Saturday KO and I witnessed that sweeping Hibs move that led to Murphy's well taken opener courtesy of LFO (I think my neighbours must have known the Hivees had scored given the yell I let out. After they equalised in the 78th minute I was again waiting for the inevitable winner (after all they are the 'tarriest' team around). But yet again it didn't materialise, despite them being afforded the usual ridiculous added time to do so. The tide seemed to me to be turning.
So it was off to Pittawdrie for us for a game that always proves difficult as we all know. Now although we only secured a point from this game I thought our overall play showed a marked improvement from much of the season, we actually played some decent stuff and dominated despite playing the majority of the match with 10 men. Another plus factor was Stephen Naismith beginning to show the talent I know he possesses (my mate is convinced we have a Kenny Dalglish in the making - I hope he's right).
It was then onto our Boxing day encounter with Motherwell. What the hell went on in that second half? Again, despite snatching the three points it is no exaggeration to say that Motherwell could have been out of site during that twenty minute spell in the second half (even Wattie said so). Anyway, if you can't be good be lucky and it was another improbable win (hey, we are starting to do what's needed to win titles I thought. Okay, not great to watch but we're garnering the points.
Sandwiched in between two further unconvincing performances by our main rivals (where they secured 2-0 and 3-0 wins against Dundee Utd and Gretna respectively) was a very difficult trip to Easter Road on Saturday 29th December. I would have settled for a scrappy draw given our up and down form but we took Hibs to the cleaners and the 2-1 scoreline certainly flattered the homeside. We even played some great stuff which was easy on the eye and the teamwork, passing and finish for Cousin's goal was a joy to behold. More of this from Cousin and the team, please!
Then of course the wind is taken right out of everyone's sails with the tragic passing of Phil O'Donnell at the Motherwell v Dundee Utd fixture the same day (my condolences to his family and friends). I will leave others to comment about the shambles created by the SPL and Celtic that followed this very sad event.
Anyway, we were about to face Sellick in a confident mood and I have no doubt that victory in that fixture would have resulted in us taking the title (I believe a net 7 points ahead wouldn't have been catchable). It is not too difficult to be cynical about a certain club's motivation behind…….ach I am not going to go there (I am sure we have all made up our own minds one way or the other).
So, with the New Year Old Firm game postponed next up was the game on 05/01/08 with our bogey team Dundee Utd first footing ibrox. Secure the 3 points here and we can garner another 6 (against St. Mirren and Gretna) before they even kick another ball. A repeat of the 5-0 win we secured this time last year [Adam, Burke, Boyd (2), Ferguson] certainly wouldn't go amiss. Yet again, our last two Ibrox performances had left a lot to be desired so I expected to be riding an emotional rollercoaster again. Thankfully, it didn't turn out that way with the ever more impressive Stephen Naismith dispatching a header from a rightwing cross by the resurgent Chris Burke in the 9th minute and Barry Ferguson glancing header in the 40th minute from a left wing cross by the same provider put us in easy street. Much of the match provided some welcome footie of the entertaining variety and the only downside was squandering a plethora of chances (including a late Boyd penalty miss) to make the score a lot more convincing.
With Rangers hot favourites to dispatch St. Mirren (A) and Gretna (A) in our next two SPL matches this would really put the pressure on ra Sellick. However all the scenarios that posters have been coming up with on the messageboard are now well and truly put on hold with the big man upstairs deciding to open his heavens and give us all a good dowsing. The St. Mirren game on Tuesday 08/01/08 fell foul of the deluge. Never mind, the rearranged Old Firm game at Porkheid on Wednesday 23/01/08 was on the horizon - well that was until the big man decided he wasn't finished soaking us yet and the Scottish Cup tie against East Stirling at Ibrox was postponed and along with it the rearranged game against the mockits so that the cup tie could now be played on the 23rd.
The Gretna game on Wedneday was not great - but it was a win. So, all the excitement of seeing us move 7 points or even a net 4 points clear could actually end up with Celtic's game against Kilmarnock on Saturday seeing them behind us by only one point. Still, not the position we were hoping to be in for that tricky away fixture with Craig Brewster's Inverness on Sunday. But when all is said and done we appear to be in reasonably good shape for the SPL title and should be in the position where we are looking down at Sellick rather than up when the (what will now be a rash) of games against them take place.
The great Jimmy Greaves is famously quoted as saying "Football's a funny old game". The unpredictable events from 15th December onwards have proved that it certainly is Greavesie, it certainly is.
WATP (on our way to 52)
A couple of comments regarding the Alan Hutton saga:
Hutton could stay with Rangers on a pretty decent salary, certainly has the potential to be a future captain, and in turn could become a one-club man of legendary status. I don't see him being able to look back with pride on something so magnificent in his dotage with any other club he is moved on to. I certainly hope that is what is on his mind - we should be looking to build a team around our best players
That is unless SDM sees him off the premises of course, but there should be no need. I have seen many comments on the messageboard suggesting that it would be madness not to sell given that he was worth only about £900K this time last year and his value is now tenfold. I take the opposite view in that if that was his worth this time last year then there is no way that any potential transfer of AH affects the current Rangers budget. That means we have a quality player classed in the £9million range on our hands (arguably one of the best Europe has to offer just now) with absolutely no need to sell. I hope he is with us for many years to come.