Livingston’s Darren Cole is convinced the club’s next three fixtures will ultimately define what division the West Lothian outfit will be playing in next season.
The Lions travel to Ibrox tomorrow before welcoming Ian Murray’s Dumbarton to the Energy Assets Arena next weekend, with a trip to relegation rivals Alloa also on the cards before the month is out.
And for Cole, who made his debut in Wednesday’s last-gasp defeat to Hibs after putting pen to paper as a free agent last month, he accepts the window of opportunity to close the six-point gap on the Wasps is getting more remote by the week, with Cowdenbeath a further point ahead in eighth.
“If we haven’t picked up any points by the end of the month then it’s over,” the 23-year-old defender said. “We all know that, the manager knows that, so we know where we stand on this one.
“We’ve definitely got the players to start climbing back up the table. We just need to take our chances. But if we can pick up something tomorrow then I think that will be the start of it.”
Livi’s build-up in the 2-1 defeat to Easter Road was far from ideal – a flu bug having deprived manager Mark Burchill of his top scorer Jordan White, who remained at home in bed while his team-mates almost snatched an unlikely point after Ibra Sekajja had cancelled out Jason Cummings’ first-half opener, only for Ivorian Franck Dja Djedje to notch the winner just a minute later.
But for Cole, who was most recently on the books of Morton, the prospect of returning to Ibrox where he spent over three years there, even making a Champions League appearance against Turkish outfit Bursaspor under then manager Walter Smith in 2010, holds little worry.
“The way Rangers are playing just now, I think we’ve got a good chance of getting something – even getting the win,” he stressed. “I’m not really bothered about what Rangers do now, I’m just looking for Livingston to start getting up that table. I’m not there anymore and I don’t keep in touch with many of the guys.
“They aren’t winning games by two or three-nil and are scraping results together at best.
“But the bigger games for us are going to be the Alloa and Cowdenbeath matches, even Dumbarton as well, but, at the same time, we know we need to pick up points wherever it may be.
“I think we did not too bad on the ball and going forward [against Hibs]. But it’s just our luck so far which is really difficult to take.”
The Edinburgh-born player is desperate for game-time, having endured a frustrating spell on the sidelines through ankle ligament damage he sustained in 2013.
He added: “To get 90 minutes under my belt was great as I thought I was only going to get about 60 minutes or so on Wednesday. I felt alright, the last 15 minutes I felt a bit tired but other than that I was OK.
“It’s the feeling you get when you’re out there – that’s what you miss. The only thing that wasn’t there was the win, or even a point for that matter.”
Burchill himself was slightly more upbeat and retains a strong belief his players are capable of avoiding the drop.
He said: “We were absolutely gutted and the guys in the dressing room were distraught on Wednesday.
“But we can’t be too down as we’ve got another big game tomorrow. It’s a fantastic occasion for the guys as there could be 40,000 there and who doesn’t want to play in front of that?
“I thought we played well in the second half at Easter Road and we started to cause Hibs problems – their fans were starting to get on their backs. That’s a big part of going there, you need to try and do that.
“It’s criminal we’ve lost that goal to lose 2-1 but I can’t be too hard on the guys as I was delighted with the spirit and the way they stuck to the game-plan.
“I think that performance showed that we are right in the mix here. We hadn’t scored away against any of the big teams up until Wednesday so I think it shows we are right in this and people need to start looking about because we are coming and are going to start picking up points very soon.
“We have ran the big teams very close this season but we need to be mentally right for the smaller games.”
Burchill expressed his satisfaction at seeing Sekajja open his account for Livi after joining in the January transfer window but is hopeful White will be able to answer his call and make the trip west tomorrow.
“Big Jordan wasn’t involved on Wednesday and Jason [Talbot] was struggling too, as well as a few of the others. But we’re hoping Jordan will be fit for tomorrow as he’s a big player for us,” Burchill added.