Last updated : 25 October 2004 By Pars Mad

When the ball's in the net it's not Hunt or Mehmet it's...
Who the hell made up this fixture list?! Jimmy Calderwood?!!

First of all we beat Hearts and Partick, get a bit of momentum going and then we got our annual slaughtering from Celtic. Then, we get a win on Saturday and so who do we play next…Rangers! One step forward before being brought to a screeching halt. It’s like being caught in a Forth Road Bridge traffic jam! Despite gaining a morale-boosting victory over Dundee, it all looks set to come to a grinding halt yet again don’t you think? That would be consistent, that would be the norm wouldn’t it, but since when have the Pars conformed to type?

Boasting a host of clean sheets so far this season, the so far misfiring Pars attack hardly look likely to pummel the Rangers defence into submission this Wednesday night, however stranger things have happened, and who better to counter the composed defending of Jean-Alain Boumsong than the equally unflappable Craig Brewster. The Ibrox side’s strike force of Novo and Prso have been equally as lacking in the goal scoring department in terms of their pre-season expectations – a factor which should provide the Pars defensive pairing of Wilson and Skerla with a certain level of confidence. One factor which should hold the Pars in good stead for this fixture will be Billy Kirkwood’s knowledge of the visitors, seeing that Kirkwood has covered just about every single Rangers game this season for Radio Scotland – including watching them in Poland last Thursday only days before the vital clash with Dundee, although having said that the Pars did get a victory…anyone spot a connection between the two?

With the Pars boasting an absolutely brutal record against the Ibrox side – the Pars winning just ten times in 94 encounters, losing a mammoth seventy times – the Pars East End Park record against Rangers offers just as little cause for optimism, with the Pars winning seven and losing 33 from a total of 48 encounters. With the Glasgow side boasting an average of roughly three goals a game against the Pars, it goes without saying that any Pars victory will have to be built on a solid defensive foundation.

Last season’s encounters with Big Eck’s side brought a depressingly familiar theme to it, with the exception, of course, of one gloriously magical December afternoon. The two Ibrox fixtures between the sides saw the outcome revert to type, with Rangers running out emphatic 4-0 winners on the 13th of September, and 4-1 winners (Andy Tod heading home the solitary Pars strike) – after an early goal blitz – on the 23rd of March – the latter of the two fixtures saw the then Pars manager Jimmy Calderwood surprisingly drop key players, such as Craig Brewster and Ritchie Byrne, from the starting lineup.

However, it was the second fixture of the season between the sides which will undoubtedly live forever in the memory of every single Pars supporter. Entertaining a Rangers side defeated only by Celtic in domestic competition, the Pars players gave their all, from the first minute to the last, to claim a historic 2-0 victory thanks to an early Stevie Crawford effort, and a own goal from – your friend and ours – Paulo Vanoli in the dying minutes of the match. Never looking in danger of losing the match – a match in which every single one of the ninety magical minutes were caught live on BBC One – the Pars went on to claim victory over the Ibrox side for the first time in 16 years. Whether it be the breathtaking build-up to, and execution of, Stevie Crawford’s opener, the sight of thousands of dejected weegies flowing out of the stadium with minutes to go, or simply the sight of Paulo Vanoli’s pass-back slipping unchallenged into Stefan Klos’ net, the memories of Sunday the 14th of December, 2003 will, without doubt, live long in the minds of Pars fans.

The final encounter of the season between the sides saw the Pars warming up for their Scottish Cup Final appearance. With the Pars players appearing as though, at times, they had both eyes on the following Saturday’s match, the Pars passed up the perfect opportunity to claim two victories over Rangers in the one season, losing 3-2 to a fairly weakened visiting lineup. On a scorching hot May afternoon, despite a Gary Dempsey double – both from superbly executed free-kicks – the Pars, themselves taking the opportunity to field youngsters such as Clarke and Kilgannon, took the foot firmly off the gas before going down to long range efforts from Ricksen and Burke and, of course, the obligatory Rangers penalty, converted by youngster Ross McCormack.

Following Saturday’s win over Dundee, the Pars will no doubt approach this game with a degree of confidence after what was a hard-working, spirited performance. One would imagine that Hay will elect to start with the same starting eleven that began the match at Dens Park, however the impressive performance of second-half substitute Billy Mehmet could well cause the Pars gaffer to rethink his plans. With Noel Hunt and Gary Dempsey remaining the only casualties from the Pars side, Hay will once again have an almost fully fit squad to choose from, a squad which includes the fit-again Ritchie Byrne who featured on the bench against Dundee. Wednesday night’s fixture could also see the reintroduction of midfielder Darren Young to the lineup in a bid to strengthen up the midfield, an area which was, at times, badly exposed against Jim Duffy’s Dundee side. The fixture could also see the possible appearance of new signing Stephen Bradley after his appearance on the bench on Saturday, although – with Bradley failing to even feature in a Reserve match – it could be a matter of weeks before the young midfielder regains match fitness.

Despite failing to hit top form, the hard-fought performance, and consequent victory, over Dundee gives the Pars a foundation to build on going into what is an undoubtedly crucial period of the season. With games against fellow strugglers Dundee Utd and Caley Thistle fast approaching, the need for confidence is paramount in the Pars squad, confidence which would, without doubt, soar if the Pars could achieve a victory this Wednesday. Although McLeish’s side have, in recent weeks, built up momentum after an eight game unbeaten run, Sunday’s home draw against Dundee Utd could well have dented what, after a poor start to the season, would have been a fairly fragile confidence.

Whether or not the Pars can achieve what would be another memorable victory over Big Eck’s side remains to be seen, but one thing seems certain, dislike them or hate them, the stewardship of Rock Steady on Wednesday night will be a joy compared to what we will be subjected to this coming Saturday from our Dundee Steward pals at Tannadice!