ALTHOUGH he would neither confirm nor deny reports of him singing karaoke tunes in the aftermath of last weekend’s Ramsdens Cup final defeat, Rangers manager Ally McCoist has left no-one in any doubt that he is offended by the insinuation being made that he doesn’t care.
It was always going to be a trying day yesterday for the under-fire McCoist, whose position is viewed by some to be under threat ahead of today’s William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final clash with Dundee United. These were his first media commitments since a defeat that was compounded by reports of late-night carousing by Ibrox staff and players at the stadium on Sunday evening.
McCoist was uncharacteristically short with a television reporter after being asked about an episode in which he was photographed apparently singing into a microphone at a function following last weekend’s 1-0 defeat by Raith Rovers at Easter Road. He answered the question, stressing how ridiculous it is to suggest he is not hurting, before issuing a polite “thank you” and heading towards the door. This is as close as the Rangers manager gets to “storming” out of the room. But it is towards another exit door that some wonder whether he is headed.
He was slightly more expansive later in a newspaper press conference, where he said: “I’ll tell you right now, if anyone in this room thinks for a minute that we weren’t hurting or in a lot of pain with that result, then I think we are all in the wrong game. Just for the record, we were all suffering greatly on Sunday and we didn’t do anything different than we have done in cup finals for the last 30 or 40 years. That’s all I would say on it, nothing more.”
Moving away from the recent past, he was asked about his immediate future, and, specifically, the possible consequences of another poor performance in a cup knockout game this afternoon. Successive titles mean McCoist can point to a satisfactory record in what he describes as the “priority” of the league. But cup defeats continue to blight his reign and another one today, with Rangers controversially handed the comfort of home surroundings by the SFA, could prove problematic for McCoist.
“It is not for me to say,” he said, in reply to the blunt question: do you feel your job is on the line? “I think your job is on the line every time you have got a game with Rangers. I certainly haven’t thought about that and I am not thinking about that. I am just thinking about our boys turning up, putting in a good performance and hopefully reaching a Scottish Cup final.”
Although McCoist revealed he had watched the Raith Rovers game again, ordering the players to watch parts of it with him, the focus this week has been on preparing for the very considerable challenge of facing United.
“It was a hard experience,” he said, of re-watching a match many described as one of the worst they had seen this season. “But you have to do it. It was a below par performance but still a game we should have won. I watched it myself and we watched bits and pieces [with the squad],” he added. “But we have watched a lot more of United with the team. I watched Sunday’s game. We didn’t play well but we should have scored and been ahead in the game. When you don’t take your chances you always run the risk. The centre-half slips, it bounces off another defender, they get the break and they score. Good luck to them. But yes, it wasn’t easy to watch.”
Perhaps surprisingly considering he has since signed one of their better players in Jon Daly, McCoist described United as “even better” than last year, when they comprehensively defeated Rangers 3-0 in a fifth-round tie last February.
“I think United have also improved. Back to front they are lively and that’s a bit of a statement when you consider last year they had [Johnny] Russell and Daly,” he said. “But boys like [Gary] Mackay-Steven and [Nadir] Ciftci … they’ve got good players and are very solid. They’ve had a great start, a wee dip and they are back again. So I would probably say that both sides have improved from last year. We would obviously be looking for a far better performance than we put in last year at Tannadice.”
Whether or not it could be described as his biggest game to date as manager, McCoist couldn’t be sure. “I have always said, and I stand by it, that if we don’t win the league I will not be here,” he said. “ I can understand that. We have signed players from the top flight who were free transfers – should they be winning the Scottish Cup? That argument is up for debate. I still think it is relatively unknown. There is no benchmark. The priority has and always will be to get out the division as early as we can. In that respect, you would have to say that it has been successful, this season. If we can add a Scottish Cup to it then I think it will be a very successful season.
“It is certainly as low as I have been in terms of football results,” added McCoist, reflecting once more on last weekend’s result. He was perhaps mindful that the club have been dealt other, more serious blows in the recent past. On a wider scale, it has not escaped his attention that, 25 years ago this weekend, he was involved as a Rangers player in a Scottish Cup semi-final against St Johnstone, on the same afternoon as the disaster at Hillsborough. A defeat by Raith Rovers can easily be placed in perspective.
But these are worrying, stressful times, nevertheless. The club’s financial struggles are on-going, and the saga looks no nearer being resolved following potential investor Dave King’s backing yesterday for season tickets funds to be kept away from the club’s board. This comes on top of the news that McCoist will be without his first-choice goalkeeper, Cammy Bell, this afternoon due to concussion sustained in training this week.
It never rains, but it pours. Increasingly, McCoist knows how this Gilbert O’Sullivan sing-along goes.