A LEAGUE One title may have been toasted a mere five days ago but it is tomorrow’s Scottish Cup quarter-final replay against Albion Rovers that will determine how this season is remembered for Rangers.
In the unlikely event of the fourth-tier part-timers ousting opponents that operate with the second-highest wage bill in the country, their campaign will be captured in that moment. Rangers’ Nicky Law is fully alive to what is on the line at New Douglas Park.
“The tie does define our season, because if we lose it, I don’t know what the reaction would be... but I am guessing obviously it wouldn’t be good. With all due respect to Albion we should be winning and bad as we played in the first game, we had chances to do so then.”
Progress to the semi-final and an Ibrox meeting with Dundee United would see Rangers “looked upon differently” and not as favourites, Law acknowledged, for just about the first time in a season. “I think Rangers at full strength in the SPL back three years ago lost to Dundee United at home, so you are never guaranteed to win the Scottish Cup.”
United have, in fact, eliminated Rangers from the Scottish Cup three times in the past four years.
The off-field wranglings over ownership and never-ending concerns over the viability of the club will eclipse anything that happens on the field short of Rangers becoming the first third tier team to win Scottish Cup. But Law would argue that such is the hostility towards the football produced by the Ibrox men, even that redemptive outcome would not spare them from criticism. “If we could win the cup it would be fantastic. I’m sure a few people wouldn’t enjoy it if we did – we would probably be called the worst side in history to win the Scottish Cup I would have thought,” he said.
Law doesn’t spare his own team from criticism. Since the turn of the year he believes Rangers’ form has been poor. In mitigation, a subconscious switching off was always likely when the Ibrox men were so far ahead of the opposition. There is reason to believe that the superior players in the Rangers squad will perform to a higher level when faced with full-time opponents of greater abilities in the Championship next year. The candid Law is of that mind. “In that league there are better players and hopefully teams will be 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 and have a go,” he said. “That should make the games better and also make it better for us. No offence to this league but a lot of the boys are too good for this level and it will be good to test ourselves against better teams.”
Despite being unbeaten in the league, Rangers have come to be seen as fallible. Albion Rovers manager James Ward has not blanched at stating his side will make the semi-finals. But while McCoist could rest players against Dunfermline yesterday with the league won, Ward had to run with players who were going down with cramp even in the latter stages of the Ibrox encounter. All of which makes Ward’s conviction that his men will prevail sound like a motivational technique.
“James is a great man, absolutely,” said McCoist. “He’s positive and that’s the way he should be. It’s up to us to make sure he is wrong. But I thought his team did him proud on Sunday and he is saying exactly the type of thing you would hope your manager would say. I can understand his psychology and fair play to him. I’m obviously hopeful there would be a bit of Ally MacLeod in there.”
A man who, it should be noted, made his name with a domestic cup success against a Glasgow club.