Lee McCulloch’s first start since being booed against Falkirk a month or so ago saw him slot into a back three alongside Darren McGregor and Marius Zaliukas last week at Easter Road. And while he came through it relatively unscathed as we managed to hang on to our aggregate lead, McCall has to do the right thing for the team and consign him to a seat on the bench tonight.
The centre back pairing of McGregor and Zaliukas is by far our best combination, but before McCulloch’s suspension and his recent injury niggles, we had been resigned to the fact that he was a constant on the teamsheet regardless of how bewildered, incompetent or costly he had been in the previous game.
However, surely with the team looking the most resolute it has done in the last four years without him in the side, McCall cannot jeopardise our promotion chances by shoe-horning McCulloch back into a settled defence?
Let’s hope not, because as much as I respect Jig’s loyalty (I know he has been very well reimbursed) and fondly remember the part he played in the trophy-laden first four years of his Rangers career, his legacy and place on the Hall of Fame would be forever tarnished should he make a glaring error which cost us promotion back to the top flight.
Motherwell will presumably line-up with Scott McDonald and John Sutton as their strike partnership if they decide to play with two up top. McDonald, as we all know, is a tricky customer who poses the biggest threat to our promotion hopes. He’s an older head who won’t be phased by the intimidating atmosphere of Ibrox and has shown that he is still capable of producing a moment of magic since returning to Scotland in January.
To deal with him, we need our two strongest defenders out on the park. They have to be chosen out of merit, and as much as I would have liked to have seen McCulloch start and finish our journey from Division Three to the Premier League wearing the armband, his leadership role should be restricted to off the park as on it there are far better options on it.
The first leg is at home tonight and I can’t for the life of me envisage McCall opting to go with a back three when we need to try and build a strong lead going into Sunday’s decider at Fir Park. That’s why I expect McCall to switch back to a 4-4-2 with Wallace, Zaliukas, McGregor and Foster forming the back line at the expense of McCulloch.
Against Hibs he had the security of two other central defenders around him which came in handy on a couple of occasions in the first half as Jason Cummings escaped his attention far too easily. He did then go on to have a decent game overall, clearing the penalty box when needed, and for that I commend him as many would have crumbled after the tasteless booing he received from the most fickle of supporters.
But the fact remains that Jig has never and will never be a centre half no matter how much anyone wants him to be. He doesn’t possess twenty years of experience playing in the position like Dave Weir had. He can’t rely on his expert understanding of the role to bail him out due to his lack of athleticism. What he is though, is a Rangers man through and through and I don’t doubt for one second that he will acknowledge that age has eventually caught up on him and that his admission from the side is for the greater good.
He will need to be ready to be called upon on Sunday though as McGregor’s suspension could mean he has one last act in a Rangers jersey. Let’s hope it’s a good one!