Motherwell take on Rangers in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup tomorrow afternoon, as competitive football gets back underway in the first match of the year.
For Mark McGhee’s men, the match presents a chance to extend their unbeaten run to three matches in all competitions following the 2-1 win over Inverness and the dramatic 1-1 draw with Hamilton in the final match of 2016.
Rangers, on the other hand, stumbled a little towards the end of the year, drawing with St Johnstone before losing to Celtic in their final two matches.
But Mark Warburton and his players will be keen to start their Scottish Cup run with a positive result tomorrow, after suffering an agonising defeat in last years final.
David Gray’s last minute header ended Hibs 114-year wait to lift the cup but broke Rangers fans hearts in the process.
However, that was last season, and ‘Well boss Mark McGhee believes Rangers are developing as a team with every passing match, let alone between seasons.
Speaking to the press this morning, the manager said: “Rangers to me seem to have taken a bit of time, players that is, to come to terms with the fact that they are Rangers and they’re in the top division again and how people want to play against them.
[pullquote]They are Rangers, they have done as well as I think they’ve been expected to do because I don’t think they should be expected to be challenging Celtic at this stage but I think they were expected to be in the mix and they are and I think, therefore, that they are on track.[/pullquote]
“As a former Old Firm player, you know that every week is the biggest game of the season for the opposition and you’ve got to be able to handle that.
“The big clubs have that, whether it’s in Scotland or down south at Manchester United or wherever, everybody and their granny turns up for those games, all the people that you don’t see here come out the woodwork when you’re playing Rangers and Celtic.”
He added: “That’s a challenge for the Rangers and Celtic players and it seems to me that the Rangers players are starting to come to terms with that and starting to mature in to what is more recognisable as a Rangers team in terms of their attitude.”
McGhee isn’t surprised to see the Glaswegian side second in the table, and added that he feels they are doing as well as should have been expected.
He said: “They are Rangers, they have done as well as I think they’ve been expected to do because I don’t think they should be expected to be challenging Celtic at this stage but I think they were expected to be in the mix and they are and I think, therefore, that they are on track.”
Motherwell will me missing Lee Lucas through suspension. Jacob Blyth and Kieran Kennedy will be absent through injury.
Rangers will be without James Tavernier who is suspended while Niko Kranjcar, Joe Garner and Joe Dodoo will be absent through injury.
Keith Lasley believes Motherwell head in to the Scottish Cup fourth round meeting with Rangers tomorrow in a good frame of mind.
And with a number of successful years under his belt with the Steelmen, the skipper admitted that lifting the Scottish Cup is the one thing he feels is missing from recent seasons.
Speaking to the press this morning, the midfielder conceded it gets more and more pressing every season.
He said: “I’m afraid it does but it’s up to us to do something about it. We’ve discussed it many times, sitting in this chair, about how good it would be for the club and for the fans.
“We know the history of a great final in ’91 and we’ve not done so well since then – a few finals here and there that have ended in disappointment – but no, it would be good but we know we have a tough tie tomorrow.”
Lifting the Scottish Cup is the one thing that is probably missing in recent seasons and everybody around this club would love to do that for the fans and for the community as a whole especially with everything we’re trying to build at this club in terms of the community being involved in it.
As much as the captain wants to lift the cup, he knows just how much it would mean to the fans.
He said: “The level of consistency we’ve shown in the league, it wasn’t just one season or even two, it was probably about half a dozen years of consistent and relative success in the league and European qualification.
“There were a couple of runs in there in the cup where we probably just didn’t finish the job off which is disappointing.”
He added: “Lifting the Scottish Cup is the one thing that is probably missing in recent seasons and everybody around this club would love to do that for the fans and for the community as a whole especially with everything we’re trying to build at this club in terms of the community being involved in it.
“To bring a cup to Motherwell would be fantastic and something that would probably just drive that community spirit even more.”
[pullquote]Our last couple of performances against both sides of the Old Firm have been really positive and anybody who was at our last meeting with Rangers at Ibrox would concede that we were unfortunate to not taking anything from the game.[/pullquote]
The Fir Parkers are ready for tomorrow’s challenge, one which is perhaps one of the toughest Motherwell could face.
Lasley said: “Of course it’s going to be tough tomorrow, it’s probably one of the toughest draws you can get at this stage of the cup.
“Take away Celtic and it’s probably the toughest assignment at the moment, but, we feel that we’re capable of competing against anybody and I include Celtic in that.”
He added: “Our last couple of performances against both sides of the Old Firm have been really positive and anybody who was at our last meeting with Rangers at Ibrox would concede that we were unfortunate to not taking anything from the game.
“At one stage of the game I think we actually can look back and think we were disappointed not to win the game, let alone take nothing.
“That gives us confidence going in to the match and the fact that we’re on the back of a couple of decent results, albeit before the break, so we go there in a good frame of mind and we’re certainly confident we can give a good account of ourselves because we’ll need to.”
Rangers have slotted back in to the top flight of Scottish football seamlessly this season.
Despite sitting 19 points behind league leaders and arch-rivals Celtic, the Glaswegian side find themselves second in the Premiership table, midway through their first season back.
And while many won’t be surprised to see the club back around the summit of the table, it is still an impressive return to the top flight for the club after being away for four seasons.
Under manager Mark Warburton, the Gers have not only been busy in the transfer market but they have also found themselves playing an attacking brand of football.
New arrivals Joe Garner, Clint Hill, Joe Dodoo and Josh Windass have enjoyed good starts to their Rangers careers – and the recent arrivals of Jon Toral and Emerson Hyndman boost the Ibrox outfit further ahead of the second half of the campaign.
And it will be a welcome boost too, with Warburton’s side somewhat stuttering towards the end of 2016, ending the year with a single point from their final two fixtures.
A draw away to St Johnstone was followed up by a 2-1 loss at Ibrox to Celtic, leaving Rangers on 39 points after 21 matches.
Kenny Miller gave his side the lead in the Hogmanay clash, tapping in from close range to send the Ibrox crowd in to an early frenzy.
But a thunderous effort from Moussa Dembele after half an hour drew the visitors level before Scott Sinclair’s tap in with 20 minutes remaining secured the win for Brendan
Rodgers side and left Rangers with a long wait before returning to competitive action tomorrow afternoon.
Both Motherwell and Rangers will have been working hard over the winter break to get back to match fitness, and with two matches against one another coming up in quick succession, the two sides will be well prepared after a few weeks off.
Rangers are recently back from a trip to Germany, where they lost 4-0 against RB Leipzig while the Steelmen have been preparing hard in training for tomorrow’s fourth round fixture.
Mark Warburton’s men will feel a sense of unfinished business with the Scottish Cup this season, following their 3-2 loss against Hibs in the final back in May.
Trailing 2-1 with just over ten minutes remaining, the Edinburgh side managed to grab an equaliser through Anthony Stokes and eventually won the match in dramatic fashion when David Gray headed home to snatch a 3-2 lead in the 92nd minute.
The manner in which Rangers lost the final will undoubtedly have left a bitter taste in the loyal supporters mouths, but it does not take away from the impressive 2015/16 season they had.
Storming to the Championship title, lifting the Challenge Cup and finishing runners up in the Scottish Cup was a terrific first season for the newly appointed Warburton and his assistant David Weir.
This season, while the league is starting to slide ever more in to Celtic’s grasp, Rangers will be keen to keep the gap between their rivals down, but in Motherwell they know they will face tough opposition tomorrow.
The winter break is over, the Scottish Cup is ready to get going again and Ibrox awaits for the Steelmen.