HE does a good job of trying to convince everybody that life is tough for Rangers in League One, but unfortunately for the Ibrox side’s manager Ally McCoist, the facts are insuperable.
Rangers are coasting towards the title, their goal difference of plus 41 and zero points dropped telling its own story ahead of their visit to Arbroath tomorrow night.
It is Rangers’ 13th league game of the season, and only a bad case of triskaidekaphobia might prevent them from making it 13 wins in a row. Nothing else has stopped the Ibrox side this season, except Forfar Athletic in the Scottish League Cup, and it is that word “cup” that will loom large at Murray Park this week as Rangers prepare to travel to Falkirk next Saturday for their televised fourth round match in the William Hill Scottish Cup.
Those sentiments about “Ally must win a cup” voiced by former chief executive Charles Green can haunt McCoist at times, but he prefers to be realistic about the tournament. He would love to win the Scottish Cup, of course, but it’s not something which he thinks will come automatically to Rangers, even after 33 victories in the nation’s premier cup competition.
“I would put us in the bracket as having the same chance as one of the teams in the top flight outwith Celtic,” said McCoist.
“It makes sense to me. It’s not rocket science. We’ve signed boys from Motherwell, Dundee United, Kilmarnock – I don’t see automatically how you become favourites to win anything when they were never favourites before.
“With the greatest respect to them, they’re doing great but they’ve not suddenly turned into world-class international players. We’ve signed free transfers.
“I would accept the fact we’re on a level with clubs in the Premiership outwith Celtic.”
Winning League One, then the Championship, and getting back to the top flight remains McCoist’s overriding ambition, and he said that while he might sign players in January’s transfer window, it would be for league reasons and not just to boost cup chances.
“We would maybe need it to maintain the level of results we’re getting in the league,” said McCoist. “Andy Little will be out longer term and that only leaves us Jon Daly and Nicky Clark as forwards. So straight away you would say you’re short staffed in that department.
“It’s vitally important to give the fans something they enjoy watching. Obviously winning is the most important thing, but we’re lucky in that we’ve got 36,000 season tickets so that in itself should determine we have a higher budget than the vast majority of the clubs in the country.
“So I think it’s our job, within the means of the budget, to give the best possible product on the park.
“You can spin the wages thing either way – we’re down 60 to 70 per cent, but at the same time they’re massively higher than anyone else, which I fully appreciate. So it’s about getting the balance right.”
If the cup might be too lofty an ambition, what does he think about the chances of Rangers going through the season without dropping a point?
He seemed flummoxed: “It genuinely doesn’t cross my mind, honest to God. I just think that it’s not going to happen – it won’t happen. For any team in any league to even think that – and I’m not playing mind games here – it’s just not feasible in the modern game.
“The proof for me would be the games we’ve had already at Stenhousemuir, Forfar and Brechin. I really don’t think that there’s much between any of the other teams in this division and the majority of them will fancy their chances against us on their own patch.”
He may be still a teenager, but Lewis MacLeod has an old head on young shoulders and he knows the cup match at Falkirk will be difficult, especially playing on an artificial surface.
MacLeod said: “We played Falkirk last season up there and it was a tough game. I know the pitch has changed, so I don’t know if that will be a factor, but we’re looking forward to it and a cup game is always better than the league.”
The carrot would be a place in the fifth round with an increased likelihood of meeting a Premiership side.
MacLeod said: “It would be good to get through this round and see who we come up against in the next. Last season we were delighted to get Motherwell and played well against them but against Inverness we didn’t do so well.
“But we’re looking forward to it and hopefully we could draw an SPL team. I think we would like to see how we would do when we come up against them.”
That test will eventually arrive. Beat Falkirk and it might come sooner rather than later for Rangers.