THREE days after watching from the comfort of his living room as Celtic successfully endured a testing assignment in Angus, Ally McCoist heads a few miles further up the A92 today in the belief Rangers’ troubles on the road this season may now be seen in a more sympathetic light.
The Ibrox club have been criticised and even ridiculed for their away form in the Third Division, dropping nine points from their first four matches at Peterhead, Berwick, Annan and Stirling.
McCoist’s team seem to have solved the problem, winning their last two away games at Clyde and East Stirling, and they will bid to make it three in a row when they face Montrose in a lunchtime kick-off at Links Park today.
On Wednesday night, Celtic were in the area when they defeated Second Division Arbroath 1-0 in a Scottish Cup fourth round replay at Gayfield which was far from plain sailing for the Scottish champions. “I watched that game on TV and it was maybe a wee reminder to every-one within Scottish football that these are extremely difficult places to go,” observed McCoist.
“Neil Lennon would admit his team were in a very difficult cup tie at a place where it’s cold and the pitch was freezing up. It’s a leveller for sure and it’s safe to say the bigger teams would rather play in more salubrious surroundings against the smaller teams. The object of the exercise is to win and Celtic did that, but it’s safe to say it wasn’t without a scare. Maybe now people have a realisation of how it is for us every time we go away from home this season. You have to get the sleeves rolled up and earn everything you get.”
Today will only be Rangers’ third-ever visit to Montrose for a competitive fixture, and the first since 1976 when they won a League Cup sectional tie 3-0 with goals from Derek Johnstone, Derek Parlane and Sandy Jardine. “I can’t remember ever playing at Links Park, even with St Johnstone,” said McCoist. “But I have a rough idea what to expect, much of the same as what we’ve been getting elsewhere away from home.”
The synthetic playing surface at the ground, where the capacity has been increased to just under 5,000 for the day, is of greatest concern to McCoist as he ponders his team selection.
He admits he may be tempted to omit winger David Temple-ton who suffered a serious ankle injury on Annan Athletic’s artificial pitch back in September. The former Hearts player scored on his return to the Rangers starting line-up in the 2-0 win over Stirling Albion at Ibrox last week. “I’m loath to say it’s not an ideal surface,” added McCoist. “I understand the reasons for it and I’ve not got a problem with it.
“This one is different from the one at Annan which seemed fine, although David Templeton got the injury there. The surface at East Stirling a couple of weeks ago was fine. They are not ideal, but they are different. One of the boys was saying that it actually helps when it rains, but we won’t see it until tomorrow.
“I would take advice on David from the medical people and the player himself, although I would have the final say on it. But it was a real blow for us what happened at Annan, because he ended up out for about nine or ten weeks. So I would consider looking at different types of player for that surface.”
McCoist has dismissed speculation linking him with a move for Aberdeen’s highly-rated winger Ryan Fraser. The 18-year-old has turned down a new contract at Pittodrie. Rangers would be entitled to approach him about a pre-contract agreement in January, although their signing embargo will not be lifted until 1 September.
“That was news to me about Ryan Fraser,” said McCoist. “Craig Brown was absolutely right – if I had any interest in the player, Craig would have been the first person I would have phoned. We will certainly be linked with players out of contract because they are the only ones we can sign, but if we have any interest in a player I would phone the coach or manager up first.
“We can talk to players whose contracts are out at the end of the season with a view to signing them and registering them on 1 September. But we are in the same position as last year in terms of not knowing where we will be playing. It looks like it will be SFL2 if we get promoted but the way things are shaping up now, we would have to prepare for either SFL2 or 3”.