For the sixth time this season Rangers come face-to-face with Queen of the South on Sunday afternoon – and few would dispute that this latest encounter is the most crucial.
Dean Shiels’ late winner at Dumfries last weekend ensures that the Light Blues take a narrow 2-1 advantage into this play-off quarter-final second leg at Ibrox, but any suggestion that this game is a formality can be quickly dispelled by a glance at the Doonhamers’ record in Govan in recent years.
A 1-1 draw as recently as March in what turned out to be Kenny McDowall’s last game as caretaker manager is as clear an indication as necessary that James Fowler’s side will travel to Glasgow in good heart and confident that they can emerge triumphant.
Even last August when Rangers won 4-2 at Ibrox they had to come from behind after trailing at the interval before securing all three points.
And then, of course, there was a certain Challenge Cup tie some two-and-a-half years ago that no-one connected with the Dumfries club will ever forget…
One should also bear in mind that Stuart McCall has suffered just the one reversal in his two months as Ibrox boss – at the hands of Sunday’s opponents, a 3-0 defeat on April 9, albeit at Palmerston.
The Rangers manager had no doubt as to the magnitude of the task in hand, nor about its importance.
“This is all about achieving our main aim which is to get promoted. This is the type of big game that we want more and more of,” he said.
“Rangers should be in the Premiership because of the size, stature and history of the club. Rangers have been one of the top clubs in Europe over the years and hopefully will be again.
“What will make Sunday even more special is that we’re heading for a sell-out. The atmosphere against Hearts was incredible – probably one of the best I have experienced as a manager – and I am sure this game will be no different. Going out there with the fans right behind you is fantastic.
“However, the crowd can either work for you or against you depending on how the game is going but it was obvious that the atmosphere at the Hearts game lifted everybody.”
Unquestionably, there is a vastly improved and positive atmosphere surrounding the old club since the change of regime – although many issues remain to be addressed. McCall spoke of the dark days when he first stepped across the threshold.
“When we first arrived at the club everything was doom and gloom – there was a lack of belief, confidence and morale. There is certainly none of that now amongst the players – and any one of them could be a hero by getting us to the top level.
“However, our priority first and foremost is getting through Sunday and then we can look forward to a two-legged tie against Hibernian in the semi-finals.”
There are unlikely to be many changes from the first leg as far as Rangers are concerned, although Shane Ferguson may finally find a place on the substitutes’ bench alongside his fellow Newcastle United loanee Remi Streete.