Wednesday evening will see Rangers play in our third competition in three matches when we host Ayr United at Ibrox, in the Quarter-finals of the Bet Fred cup. Ayr will be no pushovers as they currently occupy the top spot in the Championship despite being a part-time side, sitting above such teams as Dundee Utd at present. Of course, a familiarity exists between the sides having met at Somerset Park in last seasons Scottish Cup, a game we ran out comfortable winners.
Sunday at Ibrox seen us take all three points in a fantastic 5-1 victory over St Johnstone in a game that victory was never really in doubt. It was another routine victory, Ibrox is fast becoming a fortress again.
Sundays match seen us share the goals, with five different goal scorers, showing it really is a team effort, even with a few changes made to the starting line-up following on from Thursdays Europa league match. What made the result so pleasing is that it was exactly the type of match we contrived to drop points in last season, throw in our cross-city Old firm rivals losing at Kilmarnock before ko and it was a glorious day in the sunshine at Ibrox had by all.
We now have the type of team that if you played us in the car park, we would still kick your ass.
Here are the 5 storylines to follow vs Ayr:
1 - SHANKLAND
The Ayr forward is clearly the player who posses the biggest threat to our chances of progression to the semi-finals, he seems to have rediscovered the kind of form that made Aberdeen purchase him from Queens Park. His career somewhat stalled as he found himself loaned out on a number of occasions most notably St Mirren and Morton.
Just looking at him you can see he has shed a great deal of weight, maybe going or being forced into part-time football gave him the shake-up he was needing. His ability was never in question what was, however, was his work rate was something that was found wanting in the past, that is no longer the case. Guarding against his Rory Delap style long throws will need to be something we are aware of as it might and should prove to Ayr's biggest danger to our goal.
Of course Ayr do have a number of players who we are familiar with, players like ex-Rangers Robbie Crawford, Andy Murdoch manager Ian McCall and ex Aberdeen and Falkirk player Mark Kerr, the later thankfully being nowhere near what Championship Manager made him out to be and in the twilight of his career now at the age of 36, he will still be looking to get on the ball and create scoring opportunities for others.
Ayr comes into this match in fine form having only lost one league match this season, however, this is not the Rangers side of seasons past they will face.
2 - CHANGES
I'm expecting a number of changes to the starting line-up for this quarter-final clash, it's just a case of how many for me. Lee Wallace may find he is given a rare start to show he is still useful and can be called upon when needed. The former skipper will have a point to prove after it appears for a good while that his Rangers career is over, personally, I am shocked he is still with the club, I still don't see it being long term if I'm honest. Graeme Dorrans is another who may get a chance to gain some much-needed match sharpness back following a long spell on the sidelines. The former Norwich man looked decent enough last Thursday when he came on as a second-half substitute in the Europa League, matches like this are important, and he will be looking to state a claim for a starting role once more.
In the nets, Allan McGregor will likely make way and be rested for Wes Fodringham, who performed so well in the previous round in the victory at Rugby Park, a victory that looks even more impressive now after events there at the weekend.
Grezda, who scored in a reserve match on Monday might battle it out for a starting wing role with the impressive youngster Glenn Middleton. Along with Joe Worrel they are the most likely changes I can see being made, injury or illness aside. I think this may just be a game too early for Gareth McAuley to make his bow, certainly in the starting eleven anyway. His sheer presence around the club will a comforting and calming presence, most notably the younger members of the squad, who will benefit in the short and long term from such an experienced and assured professional.
3 - JUST WIN
No matter how we end up doing it winning the toe is the single most important thing we can do. Getting to the Semifinal and having a chance to compete for the season's first silverware is a must, with such a favourable home tie.
The manner and quality in what the team is playing at present should mean that no matter who plays they are more than capable of getting the desired victory. The most important factor in this game is that we are in the hat for the next round. If we can win once more, while giving some vital playing time to some players. Great, but winning is what we all expect.
4 - MORE GOALS
We have seen Rangers score ten goals in the last three games, impressive stuff indeed. Sunday seen a stuffy and well drilled St Johnstone side hit for five and could have no complaints the margin had been greater, with Rangers passing up number of chances to extend the goals tally.
Everyone heading to Ibrox on Wednesday will be in a positive mood, expecting more of the same I'm sure. Not only are we playing incredibly well, yet still not having reached our top gear, we are facing lower league opposition, one that we managed to score six against last season during Graeme Murtys ill-fated, a shambolic and embarrassing spell in charge.
You can never quite guarantee goals or indeed wins, this is one of the games that is about as close as you can get. The mood is good and team high on confidence. I can't see another other than goals and a win.
5 - McCRORIE AT RB?
Ross McCrorie finished Sunday's match playing at Right back, this is something I fully expected to be the case this season. This could be not only his best position for him to gain some game time, but it also leaves him less exposed in situations he has we have seen already in his short career.
It is a position he is more than capable and comfortable in, having played it for the youth teams. McCrorie at right back gives us a far natural defender than Tav, as well as height at the back post in defending some situations. Perform well in this area and it could leave the manager with yet another selection headache in another position. Yes, he won't be as dangerous going forward as our captain, but in certain games this season we may be required to defend and sit a touch deeper. It gives is an alternative in case we sustain any injuries or Tav was to move on in the next few transfer windows, there is a huge upside to having the replacement already on the books, it saves not only in money, allowing the manager to use resources elsewhere, or in the settling in or just unknown quantity of bringing a new player in.
Many speculated if a loan would be needed for the youngster, so his development would not stall or regress due to lack of game time, clearly, Steven Gerrard feels otherwise, seeing him as a key contributor this season.
PREDICTION - Rangers 4 - 0 Ayr
Thanks for reading,
Steven Harrigan (@steven_harrigan)