From Darkness Into Light...
There are plenty of FFers out there who feel our failure to rattle in three or four in the first half against the Trainspotters might have set us up for a very similar fall. But there was a swagger to the way Walter's team went about their business that weekend, a great self-belief that the game would be won come what may, a conviction which PLG's men seldom, if ever, showed. That feeling of superiority, as we mocked the HIVs heading for the exits, the sort of stuff which should be part and parcel of being a Ranger, is the very thing Walter has restored and enabled us to make light of any setbacks and bounce back doubly determined to regain the upper hand.
Yes, the deep disappointment of defeat from Lyon still hurts, aggravated further by the Great Unwashed scraping through to the last sixteen of the Champions League. But in my more lucid moments - I have them y'know - I can't help thinking that we've made great progress in such a short space of time and, although the team will continue to be a work in progress for a wee while to come, we should be reasonably satisfied with Walter's efforts to date. We must surely be upbeat about the future.
Backtrack a year and you'll find the Gers already dumped out of the League Cup by St.Johnstone, drawing with St.Mirren at Ibrox around Christmas, on our way to defeat at Inverness, with the Dunfermline debacle coming in the immediate aftermath of PLG's departure. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, Walter's declared aim of steadying the ship was painfully underwhelming and his signing targets did little to lift the mood.
However, somewhere along the line, something clicked and suddenly there was a bit of shape to our game and there was pride and passion in playing for the jersey. It was hardly 'Bring on the Barca' stuff but could any of us picture Rangers rubbing shoulders with Ronaldinho and his mates and emerging from it all with some credit just a few months down the road?
Of course, we are still raw from the way our Champions League campaign imploded but, although our early successes over Stuttgart and Lyon raised expectations, I always suspected our European future would lie in the UEFA Cup. Indeed, facing Barcelona, plus the champions of Germany and France, there were those who saw us as certs to finish at the foot of Group E, maybe even without a single point to our name.
So while it does not have all the glamour of the Champions League, the UEFA Cup should not be sniffed at. And it is worthy of note that, having progressed beyond Christmas just three times in the preceeding 25 years (1988, 1993, 2002), Rangers are currrently on a three-in-a-row run of still being alive in Europe for the second half of the season. It is hardly cause for an open-topped bus ride through the city but it is steady, if unspectacular, progress.
And domestically it looks like our team has rediscovered the knack of actually sustaining an SPL title challenge. Correct me if I'm wrong but, whenever Ra Sellick have faced a serious challenge, haven't they wilted and blown it? Here's hoping Walter and the lads keep the heat on and give us all a very interesting and entertaining second half of the season.
Having steadied the ship and gone some way towards restoring the feelgood factor, Walter and his management team now have to take the next step forward. With the two domestic cups also up for grabs, two trophyless seasons can quickly become a fading memory but, while short-term success is always pleasing, a long-term strategy, with building blocks for a prosperous future being put in place, has to be the manager's main aim.
Whilst experienced men like Weir, Hemdani and Darcheville have made a significant contribution and may even continue to do so, replacements must be sought and secured now to mould the template for the future. But the brightness of that future should make it so much easier to attract a better quality of player to the club, the sort who is likely to blossom into an Ibrox legend. Walter's great knowledge, Kenny McD's coaching ability and Super Ally's presence can only help the cause.
Where Le Guen's camp was split, with factions pulling in different directions, where the greater good of RFC was well down their list of priorities, Walter and his management team have everyone singing from the same hymn-sheet. Each and every player knows that, even if he is not in the side, it is better to be on the fringes of a successful Rangers team, knowing there is an incentive to break into the first pick eleven. This can only ensure that ongoing events at Auchenhowie are lively. Those inclined to throw the rattle out of the pram should be moved on pronto.
The Frenchman's under-achievers didn't stick around for too long after Walter returned. Sasa Papac showed he is made of the right stuff by staying to battle for his place, even in the unfamiliar left-back role, and the self-same willingness to fight for the jersey has been a major feature of the new manager's signings, something which certainly bodes well for the future. More of the same from the January transfer window will do nicely, thank you very much.
The Gers would have headed for Breezeblock Boulevard on January 2 in real good shape. Regardless of how the game had panned out, the mood amongst Bears everywhere could not be more different from the turmoil which beset us when we went to Fir Park a year ago. Instead of trailing the Great Unwashed by something like 17 points, set to lose our captain, our dignity and who knows what else, we would have been playing for top spot, perfectly capable of hitting the front and staying there. Check out the league table today, Bears. And it should look even better after Wednesday night's game against Gretna. It may not be the 'moonbeams' the Minted One mouthed off about not so very long ago but it will do for me...for now at least.