KENNY McDOWALL, the Rangers assistant manager, insists that it was more difficult to win the Third Division championship than any of the others he has contributed to since joining the club over six years ago.
Although Rangers won the title with plenty to spare, McDowall says that playing in the bottom tier served only to increase expectation at a club where pressure already is a burden.
Amid speculation that Charles Green, the chief executive, wants Ally McCoist, the manager, to get rid of his backroom staff, McDowall shudders to think how it would be if they had not got the job done.
“Durranty, Coisty and I might have been hanging from the Erskine Bridge by now. I’d hate to think what might have happened.
“We’re delighted with the achievement because we’ve been involved in a few and this, by a mile, has been the hardest one. We pulled off a few hard ones with Walter [Smith] as manager. I remember being on holiday thinking ‘my god, that was unbelievable winning that title’. But this takes it to a different level, what has happened and how we achieved it.”
McDowall has been stung by criticism of the players, especially the more experienced ones. He says that they deserve better. The likes of Ian Black, David Templeton and Dean Shiels have had to look after emerging youth-team players as well as themselves.
“Given the chance, I’m sure pretty much anybody in Scotland would sign these players. When you come to a place as big as this, it’s hard enough to come and settle in yourself, never mind try to help a group of young players who have just been put in the team as well.
“If they were coming in to a Rangers situation in the past, they would have been cut some slack because there would have been people taking some weight off them. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t have that luxury. But they have produced. They have done a fantastic job for us and we’re delighted with them.”
McDowall believes that anxiety held the team back as they neared the finishing line. “The difference since we got over the line has been night and day. In training, it’s like a weight has been lifted off them.
“It’s the hardest thing in football — to get over the line. We were expected to do it this year and we accept that. The teams in the Third Division, regardless of what some people might think, are well organised and have good managers in place.
“We’ve had a bit of stick for not playing fluent football, but you have to give your opponents a bit of respect and credit. Nobody is going to roll over and let us play like Barcelona every week. It doesn’t happen. It doesn’t matter what league you go to, games are tough until we get a goal ahead.”
McDowall says that Rangers’ players have been heavily criticised at a time when they should be proud of themselves. “They’ve been knocked by just about everybody. They really deserve better.”