ROBBIE NEILSON insisted conditions at Ibrox last night could have ended someone’s career had the match not been abandoned.
Referee Bobby Madden eventually called off an eagerly-anticipated Rangers-Hearts fixture after 24 minutes with the score at 0-0 – a belated admission that the pitch was unplayable due to snow.
Heavy snowfall around tea-time in Glasgow left the Ibrox surface covered and plummeting temperatures caused some areas to ice over. Madden let the game start after a pitch inspection one hour before kick-off, possibly mindful of BT Sport cameras broadcasting live and a crowd of 30,000-plus expected. Rangers groundstaff had cleared the pitch lines and both six-yard boxes. However, under pressure from both managers and players, Madden abandoned proceedings in the 24th minute.
Neilson today stressed that decision was correct. As players slid around and skidded into one another on the snowy turf, the Hearts head coach feared a serious injury was imminent. Madden consulted Neilson and Rangers coach Kenny McDowall around the 18th minute and, after a second conversation with the pair minutes later, blew the whistle to send both teams up the tunnel.
“Bobby came over and asked for our thoughts and I said I thought it was starting to get dangerous, which it was,” explained Neilson. “If that game went on, it was only a matter of time till somebody got a bad injury. At the end of the day, you need to respect the players as well. We can’t say, ‘we want this game to go ahead, it’s on TV and there are people here’. It’s boys’ careers on the line as well. We’ve got guys who have 15 years ahead of them in the game. If we kept the game going, it could ruin their career.
“It was the right decision in the end. I think Bobby made the right call at the start to let it go ahead because you never know with snow. It can break up, dissipate a little bit and start to melt. Then you start getting a decent game but last night it just turned to ice. It was soft underfoot and hard on top and it just became a shambles.
“Players couldn’t pass the ball, they were missing the ball, people were falling over. The main worry is that somebody gets injured. Alim Ozturk took a bad one on his shin from a 50-50 because two of them missed the ball and he got a whack.
“There was a build-up all week for this game and then it kicks off and becomes a shambles. You get guys missing the ball and balls flying about everywhere. People were missing tackles and missing headers. There was no point playing it. We’re a team that likes to pass the ball, move it and run with it and you just couldn’t do it.
“No matter what pitch we’re on, you need to give it a try. This game was on the TV and it was more of a spectacle. I think Bobby made the right decision putting it on and he made the right decision to cancel it eventually.
“I watched a bit of the warm-up and the ball was probably running better then because there was more snow on the pitch. At the end of the game, it had started to pack down and go into ice. It was actually getting worse as the game went on.”
The relentless snow left many fans stuck on congested motorways heading to the game. Several hundred Rangers supporters did reach the stadium’s main entrance for a 7pm protest. Angry at their club’s intent to hand Mike Ashley security over Ibrox and Murray Park in exchange for a cash loan, they clashed with police amid chants of “we want our Rangers back”, “sack the board” and “Easdales, get tae F***”.
Snow across the pitch affected the run of the ball right from kick-off. Indeed, it was questionable whether Madden should have let it begin. Players slipped and skated around and some appeared to complain to Madden that the pitch was unplayable.
Rangers attacked early on, with shots off target from Kenny Miller and Nicky Law. Hearts winger Jamie Walker was also high with an effort at Steve Simonsen’s goal. The visitors then pushed forward whilst commendably trying play passing football and, on 17 minutes, earned a free-kick 30 yards from goal. Ozturk dispatched a venomous set-piece towards goal and would have scored but for Simonsen, who tipped the ball on to the crossbar and behind for a corner.
That was about that. It had been clear from the opening minutes that the game would descend into farce. On 24 minutes, Madden agreed it could go no further. No date has yet been set for the rescheduled match but Neilson called for all supporters present at Ibrox last night to be given free entry. “I don’t know what the rules are but I’d like to think fans will get in for free. We brought 2000 fans through and they were fantastic,” he said.
“They gave us great backing again so it’s disappointing for them. That’s why the players went over to thank them at the end. They’ve backed us all season and I’d like to think the 2000 would get in free for the next game. I don’t think we’ve got any free weekends now until the end of the season so it will need to be a midweek game. We’ll just need to have a look and see what suits both teams.”