Michael Beale has admitted he will be forced into fielding a patched up Rangers side when they face Ross County in this evening’s Scottish Premiership encounter in Dingwall.
The Ibrox boss has only 14 senior players fully-fit for the arduous journey north to the Highlands as he prepares to named a starting line-up containing several players who are currently walking wounded just three days after playing Aberdeen at Pittodrie.
A number of first-team stars have dragged themselves off the treatment table in recent games as Beale confirmed his threadbare squad has been decimated with illness and injury.
Captain James Tavernier travelled independently to Aberdeen to avoid spreading flu symptoms he has experienced in recent days, while the likes of Alfredo Morelos, Glen Kamara and John Lundstram have all been playing through through serious knocks.
Englishman Beale accepts the situation is far from ideal, claiming the casualty list is the worst he has ever encountered. However, he has been impressed by the determination of his squad to rally together and put their bodies on the line at such a pivotal stage of the season.
He said: “I’ve got to manage it. If everybody came out, we wouldn’t have enough to play. At the moment, results are important for the football club. It’s a busy schedule, so we’ve all got to bite down on the gum shield and go. There will be five changes.
“That’s not an excuse (injuries). These boys are paid well to be at a really big club. If they are fit they go out there and play. If we let everyone with a niggle, a sore throat or runny nose not play we would struggle to have an XI. That is the situation at the moment and that is why I would never question the mentality of the group.
“It is quite unique and I never knew it in the time I was here before. Players are going out there and I have got to protect them a bit as well because it’s me that is selecting them and because it is a fierce public that we have in Glasgow. I know that. There is definitely not a commitment issue around here, that’’s for sure.
“A little bit of confidence, but I think that comes from having everyone available and seeing the strength of that and things coming together. I don’t know how many teams in any league in the world that could be without five senior centre-backs and two left-backs and have to play the teams that have historically been the third and four best teams in the league.
“We have just done that and won both games. I am never going to be unhappy with a win at Pittodrie because they don’t like us up there so I was delighted to come back with a win.”
14 players fully-fit
Allan McGregor (GK), Jon McLaughlin (GK), Robby McCrorie (GK), Ryan Jack, Ryan Kent, Rabbi Matondo, James Sands, Scott Wright, Charlie McCann, Fashion Sakala, Scott Arfield, Adam Devine, Alex Lowry, Malik Tillman
8 playing through pain barrier
Many fans have been critical of the skipper’s underwhelming performances in the past two games but the 31-year-old has battled on for his team with options severely stretched, despite suffering from a recent a recent bout of flu. Has looked a shadow of his former self and was evidently toiling against Hibs and Aberdeen.
MB: “I don’t want to use anything as an excuse but Tav has been off twice with illness and travelled on his own (to the Aberdeen game) the other day. In his performance you saw parts of that, but he seems fine now.”
A mainstay in the starting line-up prior to the World Cup break, the Scouser was dropped to the bench by Michael Beale against Aberdeen after a poor display as a makeshift centre-half against Hibs. Has been taking pain killing injections to play.
MB: “John had to take an injection to be on the bench on Tuesday night.”
The Finland international, who has been strongly linked with a January exit, has continued to nurse a “leg problem” for large portions of the campaign so far. Kamara has delayed surgery in recent weeks to remain available for selection after previously falling out of favour under predecessor Giovanni van Bronckhorst.
MB: “Glen probably should have had an operation in the last couple of months. When he plays and trains it (his leg) swells up and there is a reaction so we have to be careful.”
The full extent of the Colombian striker’s current match fitness meant he was rated 50/50 to start against Aberdeen, but it remains unclear what his specific injury is.
MB: “What you won’t know is Alfredo has had to play when he shouldn’t have done. He came in from training on the day before the Aberdeen game and if it was somebody else he wouldn’t have played. It’s manageable but when he plays it swells up.”
The highly-rated 18-year-old defender agreed a new long-term contract last week but sat out of the win over Hibs before returning to the bench at Pittodrie.
MB: “We have Leon who was sick for a few days so he’s back available.”
The club’s first-choice centre-half made his first appearance in over two months at Pittodrie after recovering from a thigh issue picked up in the 7-1 Champions League defeat to Liverpool, despite only taking part in two training sessions. Will hope to show no ill-effects of the quick three-day turnaround in Dingwall.
MB: “It’s fantastic that he is back but it’s important we don’t take a risk. I don’t think anyone realises how little he has done. If it wasn’t Connor and it was a player that I didn’t know, maybe I wouldn’t have trusted him and trusted his body so much as I did (to start against Aberdeen).”
The English defender has endured a frustrating stop-start season to date since arriving from Liverpool in the summer. Has been troubled by various niggles and setbacks but is due to resume playing ways against Ross County.
MB: “Ben is coming back, but he has had some issues coming back.”
The Croatian has admitted to feeling fatigued after his World Cup endeavours with Croatia. The left-back has yet to return to the club’s training centre at Auchenhowie after being granted an extended rest period after helping his country to a 3rd place finish in Qatar.
The 30-year-old only played in one game - the penalty shoot-out victory over Japan in the last 16 of the tournament - but is expected to return to the matchday squad on December 28.
However, Barisic stated: “I wore myself out to the maximum - both physically and mentally. Honestly, the tournament was very stressful. Japan was the worst for me because I played and of course, it went to penalties too. But in the end, it paid off. It’s what you become a footballer for.”
MB: “Borna is back in Croatia, we hope to have him back for the Motherwell game.”
8 unlikely to feature until after Christmas
The summer signing from Turkish giants Besiktas is currently sidelined with a severe hamstring tear sustained in the 4-1 win over Aberdeen on October 20 having already missed a large chunk of the season.
MB: “It’s a very, very bad hamstring - as bad as it could be. It was diagnosed at 12 weeks so we are six or seven into that, so that gives you a bit of a timeline into it, if it goes perfect.”
The Northern Ireland midfielder landed awkwardly in training and subsequently missed the win over Aberdeen. The veteran is now awaiting the results of a scan to determine the full extent of the problem.
MB: “Davis is away for a scan for a small injury.”
The prolific frontman has been struggling with a tight calf, which he sustained in training before the match against Hibernian. The Croatian was pencilled in to return for tonight’s clash with Ross County but he will remain a notable absentee in the highlands.
MB: “He’s had a slight calf problem and he won’t be ready. We thought he would be but he won’t. We could see him on the 28th.”
The Jamaican forward’s has barely featured this season and but it appears he could be available for selection after Christmas at the latest. Has started just 26 minutes this term after being met with a fresh setback last month.
MB: “Hopefully if everything goes to plan Kemar will be available on the 28th.”
The Romanian playmaker, who recently signed a new deal with the club, has been ruled out for almost a year through an ACL injury but is now closing in on a return to action, with late-January or early-February his scheduled return date.
MB: “I would say mid to backend of January. He’s in light training with the group unopposed at the moment doing a lot of work in isolation in terms of building hit fitness.”
Plagued by long-term injuries throughout his career so far, the former Dundee United and Hearts centre-back succumbed to another Achilles injury after playing just three games for his new club. Should be back in training around mid-January.
MB: “It is important we don’t push any player that is not quite ready. We want John back in a good place and give everyone an opportunity to improve.”
The attacking midfielder impressed earlier in the season before injuring his ankle ahead of first Glasgow derby against Celtic and was later pictured wearing a moon boot. Like Souttar, the Welshman is on course to return around mid-January.
MB: “We are looking at around mid-January for Lawrence to be returning which is good news.”
The Swedish international hasn’t featured since damaging his foot against St Mirren before the Scottish Premiership split last season. Understood to be aiming for a possible return at the end of February / beginning of March. His contract expires in May and could be one of several player to be heading for the exit door.