PERHAPS it was in light of Liverpool FC’s lexicon of “unacceptable” discriminatory words, but Rangers manager Ally McCoist did not exactly say yesterday that his players would “man up” this season.
That term was indeed on the Liverpool list of offensive gender slurs, so McCoist was possibly wary of saying it. Yet his fighting talk clarified that his young male brood would be no helpless chickens should they again receive some of the more primitive treatment inflicted on them last season.
“What I would look for, not from the opposition but from my own team, is a better degree of handling it,” said McCoist.
“I certainly don’t think our boys will be intimidated or bullied this year. I’m not saying we were last year but the question always asked, particularly towards our younger players, is if they fancied it last year.
“We now have boys who can give it out as well as take it, in a fair sense. I’d safely put my hat on the answer being our lads will fancy it this year.”
McCoist happily admits to toughening the team up by bringing in some battle-hardened senior professionals.
“When you sign experienced players you are getting players who can handle the physical side of it,” said McCoist. “They’ve been over the course and they aren’t going to get bullied. In the likes of Lee McCulloch, Lee Wallace and Jon Daly we have boys who can look after themselves and the younger players for that matter.”
Nevertheless McCoist pleaded with the fans for patience, particularly as so many signings can’t play competitively until 1 September, and did not rule out a rush to the market when Rangers are finally in a completely open transfer window on 1 January.
He said: “I think we’ve signed good players, I really do. I believe we have a far better squad than we had last year and that’s all we can ask for in terms of progress.
“We’ve still got to go and win the league, which I’d be very hopeful we can do with this squad, but it’s not ideal. We’ll have to chop and change for the next month.
“Come the middle of September, when we have all the boys in, I’d be very hopeful we will be an improved side from last year.
“Last year, although we brought a lot of players in, there were lots of things missing. There was no competition for places and we had too many young players in the team at one time and they weren’t getting the help that was needed.
“So we’ve signed good pros – Jon Daly, Nicky Clark – who can help bring the younger ones on. And pre-season was great, an opportunity to get them away and all working together. I’d be really hopeful that we could start producing in about six weeks or so. In an ideal world, I’d also be able to buy someone in January. But we’ll need to see how the finances are and that would be a decision for [chief executive] Craig Mather and the board.
“Where we are in the league will be the thing which determines that. If we desperately need strengthening at that time then I’d be hopeful that I could, but the board would need to weigh it up. They might ask: ‘Can we get through to the summer without spending any money and re-assess it then?’ ”
He senses dangers, though: “You’d imagine Dunfermline will put out a strong side this season, even though they’ve suffered similar problems to ourselves. There are some good teams in the division and we’ll come up against exactly the same problems we did last year because every game will be a cup final for the opposition, which is great.
“I think we’ll handle it better – it won’t come as a shock, as it did at the start of last season. We’re in the same position in that we won’t get any thanks for winning the league but that’s fine. However, I’d expect a more consistent level of performance from us.”
In the meantime, McCoist is almost happy with what he’s got: “No one has told me that I need to move players out. We’ve lost six players from last season and brought in seven or eight so it’s not as big a swing as some people think.
“There will still be ins and outs in the next month but I’d like to add another forward and a defender. I’ll be looking to send a few youngsters out on loan to give them experience.”
One youngster who went out on loan last season was Kyle McAusland who has featured in all of Rangers’ pre-season matches and would love to play in the Ibrox side’s midweek glamour friendly against Newcastle United.
“Newcastle have superstars galore in their team and it would be a great experience to play against them in front of an Ibrox crowd,” said the 20-year-old defender, who can move into midfield if necessary.
“The loan [to Ayr United] has done me the world of good, I’ve come back in much better shape and I am a much better player than I was last season. I have the experience of the Second Division especially, and with the way the squad is now and with the amount of games coming up I am ready to stay and fight for my place.”