ALLY McCoist will give no consideration to squad rotation when he selects his Rangers team for their Ramsdens Cup quarter-final at Queen of the South tonight.
There is the small matter of revenge to consider, given the Dumfries side knocked out Rangers on penalties at the same stage of the competition last year. But, more importantly, the manager wants to maintain the momentum with which – notwithstanding an embarrassing League Cup defeat by Forfar – his team has enjoyed a far better start to this season than they did last.
“There is absolutely no way that we would rotate the squad just for the sake of it,” McCoist said yesterday. “We’ll put out the strongest possible team, I think in all of the games, for the foreseeable future.
“We want to win them all. We’re not in a position where we can start resting players, far from it. We want to put our strongest team out on the park and win every game.
“It’s certainly our toughest competitive game of the season so far. Obviously we were knocked out of the League Cup by Forfar, which was a massive disappointment, but I think most people would regard Queen of the South as being one of the better teams outwith the top league.
“A continuation, to keep the ball rolling and winning games, is very important, but also it’s a competition that we really want to win. It gives us an opportunity to get into the semi-finals, but in doing that you would like to think it keeps the momentum going – winning games and scoring goals as we have been doing in the league up to now.”
The defeat by Queens last year – in which Nicky Clark, now a Rangers player, was one of the scorers for the winning team – was one of three cup setbacks for McCoist’s men. Rangers would go on to lose to Inverness Caley Thistle in the League Cup and Dundee United in the Scottish, and although they won Division Three at a canter, failure in those knockout competitions increased the pressure on McCoist.
“I was sick after that game,” he continued. “We felt their second goal was clearly offside, but that said they went on to win on penalties. I was gutted, really disappointed. It’s not a feeling that any of us enjoy in the game, so hopefully I won’t be feeling it tomorrow night.
“A lot of people outwith our football club thought it was a shooty-in that we would go on and win that cup. We never felt for a minute that would be the case, and that was proved when we were put out by the team that eventually won it.
“If we can do well in this cup, that will be another small step in the natural progression that we want to take. As I keep saying, we’ve got miles and miles to go.
“It’ll be tough. It’s a new surface [at Palmerston Park], I think it’s 4G. So it’ll be tough. They had a fantastic season last season – I thought they were one of the teams of the country, if not THE team.
“But I am hopeful that we’re stronger than we were last year at this time. It’ll be a cracking game, I think.”
The emergence of Clark is one of the reasons for McCoist’s optimism and the manager said that, although he had been aware of Clark before then, the confidence with which he handled the occasion at Ibrox was an important influence in his eventual decision to sign him.
“We’d seen him beforehand, but certainly that game didn’t do him any harm,” continued McCoist. “There has been hundreds of players that have come to the Old Firm and not been able to handle it.
“At clubs like the Old Firm, where the scrutiny is on you far more, I believe it takes a different type of mentality to play at that level and under that pressure. Nicky’s a good lad, a really smashing lad. I just hope he can continue to progress. Last season was fantastic for him.
“We’ve got a little bit of competition for places up front now. Nicky’s got a good approach to the game and he knows his own strengths.”
Clark himself was happy to recall that highlight of last season, but emphasised his eagerness to eliminate his old team this time round.
“We knew we had a chance,” he said of last year’s match. “We were confident. Everyone was flying as a team and we pulled it off. It had an impact on the rest of the season.
“We were confident going into the game, but obviously after that win we had even more confidence. It was a great night for us, but I’m a Rangers player now so I need to make sure we go out and beat them this time.”
Lee Wallace may miss out because of a niggling injury, while McCoist rated Lewis Macleod as very doubtful because of a knee knock. Ian Black will also miss out due to suspension.