It has been a painful few years for everyone involved with Scotland’s most successful club but this weekend could finally see four years of pain come to an end as Rangers could secure a return to top flight after four years away. For this to be the case Rangers, who currently sit 14 points clear at the top of the Scottish Championship, require a win away at Raith Rovers and Hibernian to drop points away to St Mirren.
It has certainly been four years of turmoil and Rangers fans will be hoping that this weekend they can finally draw a line under the club’s troubles and resume their battle with Celtic for supremacy within Scottish football.
Rangers journey back to the top began in the unfamiliar surroundings of Peterhead, after chronic mismanagement from former owner Craig Whyte which had seen Rangers debts reportedly reach £134m. The club was liquidated and reformed under the ownership of Charles Green. This meant that the club was demoted all the way down to what was then known as the Scottish Third Division after a vote held by SFL clubs and handed a transfer embargo which they later successfully appealed.
That night at Peterhead proved to a big disappointment for Newco Rangers as they only managed a 2-2 draw. However, things soon started to look up, starting with the retention of keys players such as defender Lee Wallace and striker Andrew Little along with players such as Ian Black, David Templeton and Dean Shiels agreeing to take the drop all the way down from the Scottish Premiership to play for the club.
Unsurprisingly, the club, which possessed players of a vastly superior calibre to the teams around them, coped with life very well in Scotland’s bottom tier. They had to play with extra pressure considering they were everyone’s cup final meaning teams were highly motivated for the game and often sat back in numbers with the intention of frustrating Rangers. The team suffered occasional setbacks but only lost three times and were crowned champions with 89 points an incredible 24 points ahead of second place Peterhead. Andrew Little lit up the scoring charts with 22 goals.
Rangers always maintained their sizeable support and they had the highest home attendance in Scotland that season, also setting a new worldwide record for the highest attendance for a fourth tier match. They were presented with the trophy in front of 50,048 fans at home to Berwick Rangers.
This support continued to drive them on to success, Scottish League One proved to be even more of a walk in the park as Ally McCoist’s men only failed to pick up the 3 points on three occasions (3 draws) during the season and finished the campaign unbeaten on 102 points, a whole 39 points ahead of Dunfermline Athletic. This only thing that detracted from the season was the disappointing extra-time defeat to this weekend’s opponents Raith Rovers in the Scottish Challenge Cup final.
Rangers momentum now looked unstoppable but they were about to get a rude awakening about life in the Scottish Championship. Hopes were high at the start of the season as club favourites Kris Boyd and Kenny Miler returned for their second and third spells at the club respectively. This time, the club was pitted against some familiar faces, the newly relegated Edinburgh clubs Hearts and Hibernian. These two clubs ensured Rangers got off to a miserable start. In the first game of the season Rangers went down 2-1 to Hearts at Ibrox and less than a month later Hibs also defeated them on their own ground, this time, 3-1. Rangers still managed to pick up points against the weaker sides in the league but their season was thrown into chaos when manager Ally McCoist resigned as manager on 12th December but signalled his intention to work his 12-month notice period. The club was not satisfied with this and a week later put him on gardening leave and appointed his assistant Kenny McDowall as caretaker manager.
McDowell’s reign got off to the worst possible start as his side lost 4-0 away to Hibernian in his first game in charge and on February 13th they lost again to Hibernian 2-0. Following on from that Rangers suffered four consecutive draws and fell way off the leader’s Hearts blistering pace. On March 12th, 2015 McDowall was relieved of his duties and it was announced that former Motherwell manager Stuart McCall would take charge until the end of the season. McCall nursed them through to the end of the season but they could only finish third, 3 points behind Hibernian in second and 24 behind runaway champions Hearts. In the forthcoming play-off campaign, Queen of the South and Hibernian were dispatched and the stage was set for their return to the Scottish Premiership. All that stood in their was a two-legged tie against McCall’s former side Motherwell. However, as always seems to be the way with Rangers, things were not that simple. In the first leg, they folded to a 3-1 defeat at Ibrox and things scarcely improved in the return leg as a second half blitz from Motherwell consigned Rangers to a 3-0 defeat and another season outside of Scotland’s top-tier.
Finally, this season appears to Ranger’s year, the constant boardroom reshuffling and fallout from the club’s liquidation that had dogged previous campaigns seems to have stopped and under new chairman Dave King Mark Warburton was brought in after he impressed by taking Brentford to the English Championship playoffs. Funds were made available to Warburton which allowed him to stamp his own mark on the team. He has mainly stuck to what he knows as he has overseen an influx of English Football League players such as Wes Foderingham, James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn amongst others. Rangers have looked a solid outfit under Warburton, winning their first 11 games, reaching the Scottish Challenge Cup final and sitting potentially just one game away from securing promotion.
They now feel that they are ready to recommence their rivalry with Celtic, firstly in the Scottish Cup Semi Final and in the league next season for the first time in four years. It’s too early to say how competitive they will be but that question is for another day, Rangers fans are simply focusing on this weekend and getting back to where they belong in the Scottish Premiership.