Tomorrow Rangers host Kilmarnock in arguably the most important match of Mark Warburton’s well-established Rangers tenure.
While it is true to say that Rangers have passed many tests this season, and Andy Halliday himself is on record as being a little tired of every other game being described as the next test, tomorrow’s Scottish cup clash with Lee McCulloch’s side probably qualifies the most of all.
Back in May, shudder to remember, Stuart McCall’s atrocious Rangers outfit were crushed both home and away by an abysmal Motherwell side in the infamous playoffs.
Back then, Motherwell were the second bottom side with St Mirren well and truly lost at the bottom of the table, but then-manager Ian Baraclough’s team themselves were utterly wretched and Rangers were overwhelming favourites, despite the Govan mens’ own lack of quality.
The rest, as they say, made for a painful 180 minutes as Bears realised their diabolical side had been condemned to at least one further season in the dungeons of lower league Scottish football.
Fast-forward to the present day, and Warbs’ astounding, borderline miraculous transformation of an abomination of a team into a frankly well-oiled machine, which may have the odd dip now and then but simply plays a quality of football which would have been unthinkable early summer last year.
Consequently, with Kilmarnock currently occupying pretty much the same slot as Motherwell did way back when, there is no more accurate a comparison or test than this is.
Rangers failed atrociously against the second bottom side last year, this time Rangers fans can truly and utterly accurately measure just how far their side has come since the Magic Hat took charge.
Many might point to the St Johnstone match as a valid example already, but that was in September and Rangers’ team was still fairly fledgling, having only had a few months together in the Championship while their opponents were seasoned SPL pros.
Tommy Wright’s men may have been lower midtable at that point, but today they sit comfortably in the top half – they are a very decent team and the loss was a learning experience for everyone connected with Rangers.
Tomorrow, however, really is the acid test – the first true chance to see where Rangers are under their new board, new manager, and new team.
Many may also point to the managerial turmoil at Rugby Park as a way of dismissing this argument – unfortunately Motherwell were also in a complete stramash themselves, and Baraclough’s future was also on the line. Their results had been painful viewing for their supporters, and it is one of the reasons Rangers were favourites.
And before anyone points out Hibs’ impressive results v SPL opponents this season, particularly Aberdeen; bear in mind Hibs’ squad (and manager) had had a season’s head start on Rangers, relegated as they were in 2014. Well over a year’s development together, while Rangers v St Johstone saw effectively a brand new squad.
However, back to Rangers’ tie, and the circumstances are so astonishingly similar that it really could not have come at a better time, Holt’s injury aside (please make it!).
Win, and win well, and the progress is evident. Just win, and it is still decent enough. But draw or lose, and there may be a question or two as to exactly what status the team is currently at.
We shall see where things stand come around 3PM on Saturday.