A lot to be positive from this last week and now we are one momentous ninety minutes away from a European final.
I feel I have to be careful because ultimately a defeat and draw isn’t the results we wanted but it’s absolutely fair to say the last week has brought us positives to reflect on. But with positives comes the negatives and ultimately, like our season, there is a mix of both.
Unfortunately yesterday’s draw wasn’t enough but the strong second half and another recovery from behind speaks volumes for our fitness for one. It also, arguably, is another sign that the manager is getting to grips with this squad and what is required in our domestic game. Also, again arguably, he has shown enough in the last month to give us hope going forward. Gio has at very least given himself a platform at minimum the Scottish Cup could provide him. For the league it all comes too late however.
We had to win and we didn’t but I don’t think we could have asked for anything more. A determined and spirited performance which we controlled for large periods. A strong opening which lacked the frontman presence, then knocked by goal conceded and became second best for the rest of the half. We then stuck in it and after the first ten minutes of the second became by far the better side.
In fact it’s not unfair to say we should have won it. Chances for Fashion, Arfield then Jack and further pressure, lacking the incisive ruthlessness (story of the season) meant we wasted the chance to win the match but effort and endeavour not to be questioned.
So credit to the manager and the squad because we faced the unavoidable fact that had he lost, further to his first two Old Firms defeats, then it would have been a mountain to climb in terms of trust in the eyes of some of our support. Two spirited displays have shown the gap is marginal if any at all and also that the manager has got to grips with the fixture.
Giovanni Van Bronckhorst has overseen a League swing of twelve points and that will never be acceptable, criticism of that is relevant. The context of a squad prone to this and unmanageable injury challenges also fair but he has come through them well. At Rangers we have to win but tactically and in performance, especially in Europe, he has given us enough to prove that we can trust him going forward. I feel that I have rightly questioned him but now time to settle on the positive side of the job he has done.
One thing for sure is that yesterday’s draw means we have surrendered the title which should never have been the case. A squad which requires surgery, a boardroom unable to properly back the team in January for whatever reasons and poor transfer windows are all an arguing factor as to why and how.
It shouldn’t have happened but it has, now it’s about ensuring we finish strong and with best possible summer ahead.
The summer is now a huge one for us, a squad with quite a few going out of contract and another half dozen going into their last years needs almost a mini revolution to revitalise and freshen. However there is a core there that can be relied upon and structured around, no more so than the likes of Tavernier, Bassey and Lundstram who have flourished under the managers guidance.
There are some in this squad that require to be moved on and some that require to be retained with new contracts. There are youths that now require to be the outer core of a squad that needs a freshness that youthfulness would bring. It is also a squad that has proven itself on European platform so isn’t worth completely binning and restarting. A balance is required and one which the manager would have got the last six months to properly supervise and base his rebuild around.
Our European performance has brought us to Thursday and ninety minutes from a Final appearance in Seville. It is a massive task but with a rocking Ibrox behind us it is a game we need to win and a game we most certainly can. RBL are a very good side and we undoubtedly need a returning Roofe and even a returning Ramsey to give us the options required.
However it is a game this squad can empty itself in and then rest before at minimum trying to win the Scottish Cup in a few weeks. The evidence of recent weeks show this squad have the levels required to do that.
I remember Fiorentina and a nervous Ibrox, weirdly we know what we have to do on Thursday. The tie is lost on aggregate, as we stand, so knowing a victory is needed may also be a strange positive. Ibrox has to come alive, we have to get behind the team and even if we go a goal down remember to stick with it.
We have to bring the noise. We all know what is required.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for this group of players and it’s fair to say our club. The old posts that this club and clubs from ‘smaller’ countries aren’t meant to progress like this are all absolutely true. I also remain adamant that this group of players deserve the legacy this could bring them. 55 can’t be the only moment this squad has.
We can do it. We are more than capable and it can be the biggest night Ibrox has seen in my lifetime. Yesterday was almost an inconvenience as controversial as that may be, now all focus is on Thursday and coming together to get this club to a European final and a platform it deserves.
A huge thank you to 32Red who invited me as a corporate guest to Leipzig last week. The blog has brought me some tremendous opportunities and the platform has given away various hospitality days and match tickets through a great relationship with our club sponsors. This was another level however. They flew us out Thursday and back Friday in a trip that will long be remembered.
Leipzig a beautiful city, small but pristine and architecturally stunning, it was a wonderful trip in great company. Sharing a bus trip with Ally McCoist and Craig Moore chatting old 9 in a row stories will remain a personal highlight for years to come.
Very well looked after and a performance undone by only a moment of magic. I’m extremely lucky and fortunate, I don’t dispute that and this blog has become something I could never have imagined. At times I wondered if it was right to stop and perhaps publicly wearing my heart on my sleeve wasn’t quite the right move but you live and learn with everything.
Now it’s all about the return leg and destiny awaits us.
One huge effort required and one massive game to overcome. Dreams of Seville are still alive but they wait for now.
150th year, 50 years on from Barcelona, this squad have done us proud in Europe. Now they have one last hurdle to overcome before our dreams can all run wild.
I can feel the excitement already.