I’ve got a simple message for anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to get rid of Allan McGregor – be very careful what you wish for.
We’ve all heard the debate over the past few days, since my old mate lost a couple of goals at home to Motherwell. I’m not going to pretend to be unaware of what’s being said about him and I know there a few fans wanted him taken out of the firing line at McDiarmid Park on Wednesday night.
I get it. The whole season is coming down to the wire and people are getting jumpy. They look at a guy who turned 40 years old a couple of weeks ago and they’re worrying that he’s become a weak link.
But these people need to stop and think for a minute and, no, I’m not playing the old pals’ act here. I’m telling you now, this guy is still the best goalkeeper in Scotland, never mind at Ibrox.
And if you take him out of that team right now you might just be throwing away the title while you’re at it.
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Take it from me, this is a top-class operator we’re talking about. Yes, I know he’s made some mistakes over the last few months and some of them have been difficult to defend – even for me.
The guy’s 40, of course his reflexes are not as sharp as they used to be. Yes errors are creeping in that weren’t there before. But the reason they’ve been highlighted and discussed so much is because this is a man who hardly ever gets it wrong. That’s why he’s still the best in the land.
Even if he’s only at 80 per cent of his best, that’s still better than anyone else in the game.
And more to the point I can put my hand on my heart and say if I was in that team right now going into the last nine games of the league campaign there’s no one else I’d rather have in the trenches beside me.
He knows he’s let a few in that he should have kept out. And that will be driving him absolutely mad inside.
It will also be motivating him more than ever to make sure he comes out on top at the end of the season.
What happens after that? Will he decide it’s time to hang up his gloves from him?
Perhaps. But even if that is the case he’ll give everything he’s got between now and May to make sure he goes out on a high.
And to be perfectly honest I’m frustrated and surprised that some people out there don’t realize what they’ve got in this guy. He’ll walk through walls for them.
He’s done it his whole career and if he wasn’t in goal against Dortmund the other night then they wouldn’t be looking forward to a last-16 tie with Red Star Belgrade right now.
I’d go as far as to say he’s never been more badly needed by Rangers than he is right now – now that so much is on the line – and it seems pretty clear that Giovanni van Bronckhorst and his coaching staff feel exactly the same way .
In fact there are clear signs now that the manager has whittled through his squad and worked out inside his own head which players he feels he can hang his hat on when push really comes to shove.
That he didn’t make any changes in the second half of Wednesday night’s win over St Johnstone, when his team was screaming out for fresh legs, told his own story.
By not turning to his bench it tells me he’s now worked out the 13 or 14 players he believes can win games when the pressure is on.
I’m not saying he doesn’t trust the others.
But what I do believe is, now that he’s worked with them for a decent period of time he has a core group in his mind and
he intends to rely heavily on them between now and the end of the season.
Put it this way, if Ryan Jack was fit he’d have started the game instead of Glen Kamara because the manager clearly believes he’s worked out his strongest XI.
That’s not to say the other guys can’t contribute. Look at Kamara for example. He came into the starting line-up and ended up scoring the winner so there will be big roles for others to play.
But to me it looks like Gio has made up his mind how best to balance the team.
Was he wrong not to make changes in the second half? Well just look at the result. He got the win didn’t he? What would folk be saying if he threw on three substitutes and one of them made a mistake which cost a goal?
That’s the bottom line here. That’s all that matters.
Look, I know it didn’t look great. In fact it was probably one of the worst games I’ve seen all season. But believe me
when you get into the last 10 games of the season the only thing that matters is picking up three points.
Yes, it would have been a bonus if they had turned on the style but that was never going to happen on such a horrendous surface. And let’s be honest here, I thought they were brilliant in the first half against Motherwell on Sunday but they came off the pitch with only one point to show for it.
That’s no use to anyone at this stage and it’s why you need to lean on players who have been over the course and distance before.
And while McGregor is one of them, don’t rule out Aaron Ramsey from making an
impact over the final weeks of the campaign.
Yes, time is running out for a new signing who arrived a month ago and has hardly kicked a ball since. And I know the patience of the fans is wearing thin with him too.
But don’t be fooled into writing him off just yet either and spare me this theory that his heart is not in it.
On the contrary, I suspect the guy has pushed his body to the limits in trying to get ultra-fit and has picked up niggles because of it. I’ve been in that boat myself over the years.
If he’s still not contributing in two or three weeks from now then yes, it will begin to look like an expensive mistake.
But this is the point in a season when the biggest players deliver. Anyone writing off McGregor and Ramsey does so at their peril.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.