WHEN Fraser Aird trotted up and then slowed down on his way to take an 89th-minute corner on Saturday, it said everything you needed to know about this Rangers team. And the outraged reaction of the home fans told its own story too.
Rangers 1-0 Cowdenbeath
Scorer: Rangers - Shiels (58)
Even allowing for the calamitous collapse at Alloa in midweek when Rangers threw away a two-goal lead with 18 minutes left to be humiliated in the Petrofac Training Cup semi-final and not wanting a repeat, even allowing for a lack of confidence in the players that is becoming more and more evident in every Rangers game and even allowing for knowing the loss of two more points in the race to catch Hearts would have been disastrous, this was surely not acceptable.
It certainly wasn’t for more than 28,000 fans – Rangers’ lowest league gate for 28 years – who voiced their discontent at Aird so much so that he had to speed up and quickly take the corner, having got the message loud and clear with all thoughts on timewasting forgotten. Just when did Rangers get to the stage where they believe it is necessary to waste time to secure a 1-0 win against Cowdenbeath at home?
It’s not very often when fans boo you off after winning, but that’s what happened at Ibrox on Saturday. The real danger for Rangers now is not their fans’ anger, but apathy.
Attendances are plummeting and that decline won’t be reversed with this brand of football. Turgid, dire, creatively bereft – a brand of football that perfectly mirrored the filthy weather – there was almost nothing that would raise even the merest hint of confidence that brighter times are ahead for this team. Even the goal was a shot heading wide from Dean Shiels that was turned into his own net by unfortunate Cowdenbeath defender Nat Wedderburn.
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You could argue Shiels had earlier hit the post and Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd both missed decent chances, but there was absolutely no response of any kind to that midweek shambles. No urgency, no roaring out the traps eager for vengeance, no vigour at all. Nothing.
McCoist kept faith in his players by picking the same team from the Alloa game, with the exception of injured Lewis Macleod, and his reward for this loyalty was a stinking performance.
One of those players, Darren McGregor, has been one of the very few who have earned pass marks this season, despite being shunted out to an unloved right-back role even though he’s been probably the best central defender at the club.
For the fans who say the players don’t care, they should have listened to the former Cowdenbeath defender, who has twice suffered career-threatening injuries, after the game. He admitted: “I stayed in for four days. It has been terrible. From a personal point of view, I thought I could have done better in certain situations. I beat myself up about that.
“It lasted until Friday before I started to feel a bit better about myself. I told myself I needed to get over it. It was inexcusable so there is no point making excuses. All the boys know it is not acceptable. It is probably the lowest I have felt in football, if you take away my two cruciate operations.
“In the circumstances it was really hard to take. But you need to use it as fuel because you never want to feel like that again. You need to do your utmost to stay on top of it and make sure you don’t switch off. The only way to get better is be meticulous and strive to be the best you can be. When I fall short of that, then I get really upset about it.”
McGregor accepted he personally felt gratitude to McCoist. He pointed out: “The gaffer has been great with me. He has taken me under his wing. He believes in me and that gives me confidence.
“I think you also feel that you have let yourself down and the club down as well. This club has a great heritage and the fans demand so much. To be in the situation where you let things slip affects everybody. It’s painful.”
At one point in the afternoon, it looked like Rangers would even make up some desperately-needed ground on Hearts, after Queen of the South’s equalised at Tynecastle just after Rangers had finally gone in front.
However, Hearts rallied in some style and the gap remains at nine points. McGregor publicly queried last month when the Edinburgh side could handle the pressure.
But he conceded: “Hearts are doing great. Hats off to Robbie Neilson. They don’t look as if they are going to get beaten at the moment. I’m not going to make any bold statements. It is up to us to keep winning our games, putting the pressure on and seeing where it takes us.
“Football is a funny game and stranger things have happened. But we really just need to concentrate on ourselves and forget that Hearts are nine points in front.”
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