Rangers try their luck against SPL opposition
Rangers v Motherwell, 7.15pm
26 September ~ The last SPL visitors to the oldco Rangers will be the first to play the newco. Motherwell, who were delighted to leave Ibrox with a 0-0 in May, are top of the league and have already been to Athens and Valencia in European competition this season. Their hosts in tonight's League Cup third round tie sit second in the Scottish Third Division and were recently eliminated from the Ramsden's Challenge Cup by Queen of the South. The most exotic place they've been this season is Berwick. Yet the culture change hasn't been quite as spectacular as expected when Rangers were liquidated in June.
The top tier of Scottish football is sending one of its teams to the home of a bottom tier SFL club this evening and a whole lot of axe-grinding can finally be expressed face-to-face. When the draw was made there was even brief talk, on some Rangers forums, about boycotting the game to hit the visitors' share of the gate receipts despite the fact it would hit Rangers harder. Ridiculous, yes, but the levels of cognitive dissonance within and around Rangers went through the roof this summer. Managing to be both humbly desirous of starting again in the Third Division and grandiosely hateful of the SPL clubs who "kicked us out" became the staple standpoint of many Bluenoses. This was of course reflected by fans of our former top flight rivals – volubly proud to be rid of Rangers yet failing to turn out in better numbers this season than last.
So as Rangers won their way into this stage of the League Cup the chance of meeting an SPL club became all the greater. If it had to be anyone, I'm glad it's Motherwell and of all the places it could have taken place I'm mightily relieved it's at Ibrox. A visit from Celtic, for example, or Aberdeen at Pittodrie would have made boycotts the most pleasant thing on the agenda. Motherwell, however, is a 20-minute drive from Glasgow – a hotbed of treacherous defections to Old Firm supporters' buses – so the Steelemen only despise Rangers as part of a set. That they're managed by Ibrox legend Stuart McCall and represent the best hope of denying Celtic this season's SPL title should also help keep the bile to a minimum.
To be frank, for the last ten years, all midweek domestic cup matches at Ibrox have been live on the telly and poorly attended because they're not on the season ticket. And each weekend, as it always was, we're everybody's cup final and home league games are watched by over 40,000. If it wasn't for blow-hard owner Charles Green playing to the galleries like some insane cult leader – determined to blame the SFA and SPL for everything, including his own failure to deliver on transfer deadline day – the only atmospheric change at Ibrox these days is a sense of celebration that we have a club at all, be it 140 years or two months old.
Rangers haven't won any of their three away games in the SFL so far yet have scored 14 goals in three easy home wins. Celtic also had a steady but slow start to their season. Cue various quotes and headlines about Glasgow's big two "missing each other". Neither club tops their domestic table but is placed to do so soon. One of the biggest roars at Ibrox last Sunday came when the attendance was announced and everyone knew Rangers had a bigger crowd versus Montrose than Parkhead attracted for Saturday's visit of Dundee. That was the weekend originally scheduled for the first Old Firm derby of this season – transpires we were on each others' minds anyway.
Europe, for Rangers, has been replaced by the extra domestic cup ties common to lower league clubs early on. The quality of the Ibrox squad and the history to which the newco is clinging, made last week's Challenge Cup defeat the worst since Chesterfield thumped us out the Anglo-Scottish Cup just eight years after we'd lifted a European trophy. The only thing worse than thinking you're too big for a competition is not winning it. Yet the sight of around 2,000 Queen of the South fans going utterly berserk as Ryan McGuffie stroked home the winning spot-kick was strangely reassuring. Either necrophilia is all the rage in Scotland right now or it's as good to beat Rangers as it always was. Motherwell aim to test that Rangers pulse again tonight. Alex Anderson