‘Even Lionel would have been in a real Messi’

Sam Nicholson in action at Ibrox. Pic: LISA FERGUSON

Sam Nicholson in action at Ibrox. Pic: LISA FERGUSON

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SAM NICHOLSON reckons even Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi would have struggled to perform on the snow-covered Ibrox surface last night.

The Hearts winger agreed fully with referee Bobby Madden’s decision to abandon the top-of-the-Championship clash with Rangers after just 24 minutes’ play.

He described the underfoot conditions as “horrible”, and revealed that players on both sides were worried about sustaining injury and eager to see play a brought to a halt as the match degenerated into a farce.

“We knew in the warm-up it was pretty bad but the referee was right to give it a try,” said Nicholson. “The fans were here already, so it would have been hard to cancel it.

“But it was the right decision to eventually call it off. It was terrible to play in. You couldn’t get the ball off the ground when you were trying to cross it in.

“There was a definite risk of injury. There was one where I just got nudged and slid for about an hour! I couldn’t stop.

“As the game went on there could have been injuries. It wasn’t the best to play on and you feel every time you’re moving that you’re just going to slide.

“It was horrible – even if someone was five yards away and you were trying to pass to them, somebody would intercept it.

“There was one where the ball was out wide and someone (Lee Wallace) tried to cross it and missed the ball altogether.

“It makes you look like a terrible football player. I think Messi would have been miskicking the ball on that pitch. It wasn’t nice to play on at all.

“Everyone was talking to each other on the pitch. The referee was right to give it a go but it was horrible.”

Nicholson praised referee Bobby Madden for his handling of a difficult situation and was heartened to see him communicating with the players and keeping them abreast of the situation.

“A couple of the boys were saying to him that there was a risk of injury and we were worried about it,” he said. “Players could easily have pulled a hamstring if they are trying to kick the ball and missing it.

“The referee was good with us. He told us he’d talk to his fourth official and he was good with us on the pitch.”

Rangers manager Kenny McDowall was disappointed at the way things panned out, but insisted everything that could have realistically been done to get the pitch playable was done. “It’s a pity,” he said. “I think the referee was hoping the pitch would thaw out with players on it and the undersoil heating. The actual temperature outside didn’t allow it to thaw out at all and the snow actually turned into ice.

“The players couldn’t pass the ball but they couldn’t run either so it became very difficult. It was the correct decision in the end to call it off.

“It was difficult in the warm-up and you could tell it was pretty heavy.

“Right away, we had to say to the players to be careful with their passing. The ball was slowing up quickly so you had to get the ball into the air to get any distance on it at all. That made us think about one or two different ways to play in it. The snow was pretty thick to start with.

“I was inside till it was time to come out for the warm-up and I couldn’t believe how much snow was there. Our groundstaff were working hard to try and get the snow off but they were never going to clear the park in time. The undersoil heating was full blast. It was just too much snow falling in a short space of time.”

Rangers fans staged angry protests against the club’s board outside the main stand before the match, but McDowall claims he and the players weren’t distracted.

“We go out to do our warm-up at seven o’clock so I was on the park when it was going on,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going on outside. We aren’t just talking about something that happened all of a sudden. This is us into three-and-a-half years now with things being difficult. What happened tonight happened. I don’t know enough about what went on but it’s not new to us. We just get on with what we do.

“It’s my job to prepare the team and get them focused. It was a massive match and we put a lot of work into it. I had to try and keep that away from the players and keep them focused on what we’re trying to achieve, which was to get three points.”