Ne'erday '68 was hugely exciting, Rangers' new manager, Davie White had the team playing open, expansive football. It was just as well, Rangers dismissal of Scot Symon the previous month had been controversial. Thirteen successful years were not enough, Jock Stein had arrived and his brand of winning football was perceived as modern. It was a stark dichotomy, Symon was blazer and flannels, Stein was strictly track suit; Symon blended players, Stein annotated blackboards and fitted players into his system. Rangers needed a modern manager to compete with Big Jock. White had coached Clyde to a third place finish the previous season, he had been appointed Rangers assistant manager just four months previous.
After the Bells, Davie White's ten game tenure was brought to focus. Eight league games won, including a 10-2 demolition of Raith Rovers, and Cologne knocked out the Inter City Fairs Cup by a 6-1 aggregate. The day before, Rangers had journeyed to Pittodrie and won convincingly, 4-1. Goals were flowing, our summer signing, (Sir) Alex Ferguson had notched nine in the period, Persson and Johnston achieved the same total between them. The next afternoon, Partick Thistle were battered 5-2, and the three games in four days culminated in a 2-2 draw at Celtic Park.
Looking back, I blame my Uncle Eddie. He had been doing missionary work in Newmilns, Ayrshire for a dozen years. The deepest, darkest Lanarkshire/Ayrshire cross pollination downside, was having to listen to dear Eddie's Ne'erday interpretation of, 'My big Kilmarnock Bunnet'. Killie, under Wullie Waddell's tutelage, had won the League Championship two and half years before. Uncle Eddie was a convert. We would receive our comeuppance at Rugby Park at the penultimate game of the season.
We travelled down to Ayrshire in sunshine. It was the last week of April and a New Year run of 14 games had seen 13 wins and a draw. We were level on points with Celtic, their goal average was better. The draw had occurred the previous midweek, a 3-3 draw at Cappielow, and Celtic were playing at the tail o' the bank whilst we took on Killie. Comparatively, the Rugby Park surface was deemed the best in the UK. The previous year, the about to be World Cup holders, Brazil had based themselves in Troon, utilising the Juniors pitch in morning fitness sessions, but doing afternoon ball work at Rugby Park. I was excited, the pitch was akin to a bowling green, in those days Ibrox was a sand pit after Christmas. Primary school was finishing, and I knew I would begin Secondary supporting the Champions...
Kilmarnock had a team of household names, King, Queen, McInally, McLean, McGrory, .... etc and 25,000 Bears had a quick intake of breath when the home side took the lead on the eleventh minute. Dave Smith and Andy Penman took control as both Henderson and Persson on either flank started to see a lot of the ball. Our Swedish World Cup semi-finalist scored a typical Orjan goal, working along the bye-line before shuffling the ball on to his weaker foot and slotting into the far corner. Drawing level before half time had everyone smiling, but Persson was clearly injured as he hobbled off. The substitute was Alec Willoughby, cousin of Jim Forrest and a fine player. He scored the winner with a dozen minutes left to play. We turned our attention to the numerous Bears cradling large radios, "what's the score at Cappielow"? It was 1-1 and remained so when the referee blew at Rugby Park. We were a point ahead with Aberdeen to play at Ibrox. We invaded the pitch, whooped in the sunshine for a few minutes; then news arrived that Lennox had scored a winner in injury time. The wailing began and continued the following Saturday when Rangers lost their only league game that season, the Dons winning 2-3.
Uncle Eddie's party prophecy was wrong, we had triumphed in Kilmarnock. Another attendee at my parents' Hogmanay party was a near neighbour who played a significant part that day. The referee at Cappielow was John Paterson of Bothwell, he allowed a couple of injury time minutes and Lennox reportedly scored with the last kick of the ball. I suspect it is the fate of all ten year old lads to both whoop and wail within a few minutes, I cannot help but think a more timeous Mr Paterson should have possessed greater awareness?
Celebrating a title win that never was, continues to live with you. I offer tomorrow night's game has the same importance? Our last game saw a first victory over the dominant Brendan Rodgers, the first in thirteen games. There is a momentum to be garnered, it's difficult because the fixture fates have Rangers visiting both Killie and Livi on two plastic pitches in the space of four days. Rugby Park's surface these days is arguably the worst in the top flight? We have had two players (Waghorn and Murphy) sustain long term injuries at the venue. Yet we have to get on with it, we won handsomely in the League Cup earlier in the season, courtesy of an Alfredo hat-trick. Tomorrow, we must take the game to them, right from the first whistle.
Killie's offensive threat is diminished by the loss of Greg Stewart and Steve Clarke must be indecisive on playing Jordan Jones? Boyd and Burke might be obvious replacements, these days neither are going to run away from any defence. Thus, we must maintain a high press and line, do not allow them wide and the opportunity to throw the ball into our box. Clarke's success at Killie is well reported and much deserved; in the calendar year of 2018, he has accrued the most league points. I believe the foundation of Killie's continuing dominance lies with their midfield central pairing. Alan Power and Gary Dicker are real deal professionals. The Dublin born duo are the wrong side of thirty, but get around the pitch with purpose. They play on the legitimate side of legal, tough tackling, winning it, and feeding the ball wide. Opposition teams attacking, quickly have to find their defensive feet when hitting the Power and Dicker wall.
The biggest question for us is will the team will mirror the starting eleven against Helsinki? The evidence was Morelos pushed wider, mostly left and Kent abdicating width for the front point of the diamond. Attacks broke down and two quick passes wide and back in, found Helsinki on the edge of our box. Thus, I would hope and expect that tonight we go with a more recognisable system and team - I would leave Defoe to the final 20-30 minutes.
I prefer whooping to wailing, 3-1 to the Bears; another Morelos hat-trick (four goals) would suffice. We MUST win.
Possible team (4-2-3-1):
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