Wanted: Eight Wins On The Trot!
Many Bears have expressed their disappointment that Hibs didn't make sure of their top six place against St.Mirren on Monday night but, c'mon guys, we really should know better than to expect any favours from elsewhere. Hibs may well be fighting for their top six spot but, with the title up for grabs, we surely won't lack motivation on Sunday.
With six league fixtures and, hopefully, two Scottish Cup ties to look forward to, the winning post and two big parties are in sight and, having failed to string anything resembling a winning run together this season, now would be as good a time as any to make it happen. Eight wins, even if they come from displays akin to the past week's uninspiring efforts, will do nicely, thank you very much.
There will be no stick-on certainties between now and Cup Final day. Hibs will certainly be very difficult opponents then, with European football up for grabs, every post-split match will be a battle. It should be in our favour that three of our final five games will be played at Ibrox but the atmosphere at our place has been pretty dismal for some time now, whereas our away support is always noisy and full of encouragement for the team. But Ibrox has risen to the occasion in the past and, knowing what is at stake, I'd like to think each and every Bear would be prepared to shout a bit louder (and stay a bit longer) to cheer the players through this difficult period.
The FF Messageboard has been overloaded with speculation about the make-up of the top six and the fixture list we could be facing. It should all be simple enough if Hibs pip Motherwell for sixth spot, with Rangers at home to the Timmies, the Sheepies and the HIVs, while traveling to meet the Jambos and the Arabs. But if Motherwell get into the top six, their balance of home and away games against the leading clubs is not so clear-cut and, with the SPL having a history of cocking up fixture lists, God only knows what kind of schedule they'll produce.
Recently, when things have been tight at the top, the SPL have tended to make sure both ourselves and the Great Unwashed finish the programme with an away game, effectively denying thousands of season ticket holders, whether at Ibrox or Parkheid, access to the title winning party. No doubt, they will have a guess at how the various games might pan out, then figure out the most awkward scenario for the final round of fixtures. Its what they do best!
Much will, of course, hinge on the final Old Firm clash of the season and, with home advantage, we have to fancy our chances. The team certainly owe us a big performance in the wake of their dismal efforts at Hampden a few weeks ago and the consequences of anything other than a Rangers win should be enough to inspire something special.
But with our injury list lengthening and certain others deemed 'unavailable', Walter is pretty short on options. For all the talk of the squad being too big, injury and suspension have left us without cover in a number of positions (goalkeeper, both full-back roles, centre-back, central midfield, main striker) and, just as we did a year ago, now is when we regret not trying out a few younger players at a less stressful point in the season. It proved costly when the team died on its feet last May and, if it happens again, the manager should ask some serious questions of himself.
Having had a bit of a barren run, it is good to see Boydie back amongst the goals again and I shudder to think what the situation might be if he'd given in to Murray's take-the-money-and-run strategy in January. As the banner said at the time: No Boyd = No Goals = No Title. More by accident than design, we are still in the hunt for the flag and the big man might just be the star to bring about the happy ending we need so badly.
As I write this, there in talk of the Old Firm game being played on May 9, meaning Bougie will be available while Brown(booked) will be suspended. Brace yourself for an outcry!!! I suppose we'd better hope there are no unexpected tragedies within the 'extended Celtic family' and that the game actually goes ahead. How is the Emperor of Japan's health these days?
With no Scottish Cup distractions, Ra Sellick will benefit from greater rest between games and, while their visit to Ibrox will not actually settle anything, they will regard us as dead and buried if they can repeat their December success.
So, while every game is a must win game at this stage of the season, victory over the Faministas is a no-brainer, the sort of result which can give us the momentum to see us through the run-in, although we all know better than to take anything for granted these days. Knowing our team's mind-boggling inclination to make life hard for themselves, I'm certainly expecting a few nerve-shredding afternoons between now and May 24 but here's hoping it all works out fine for us and we can turn the Scottish Cup Final into one big Teddy Bears Picnic.
All of which is being a bit unkind to St.Mirren who, having already seen off Celtic, did enough last Wednesday night to show they will be difficult semi-final opponents. Just ask Damarcus Beasley and Sasa Papac! But again our poor performance on our last Hampden date should act as a spur and, with only Falkirk or Dunfermline standing between the Gers and the trophy, the players must surely fancy their chances of climbing those Hampden steps just as they did last May.
Last season's Scottish Cup Final was a big anti-climax, coming in the immediate aftermath of double setbacks of the UEFA Cup Final and the SPL run-in, and it will be no different this time around if we blow the title again. Memories of the disappointment of a year ago should see to it that our players spare no effort in their bid to get it right this time around, so they can enjoy their summer and look back on what they achieved, rather than mope over what might have been.
C'mon Rangers, make it happen!
LITTLE BOY BLUE