THE Rangers team of 1992/93 won 18 matches in a row, including the landmark Champions League victory over Leeds United at Elland Road when Mark Hateley’s hook shot and Ally McCoist’s diving header scored goals that confirmed that Walter Smith’s team really was, its endeavours in the Scottish Premier League apart, a force to be reckoned with.
It is far more difficult, bordering on impossible, to accurately measure the merits of the current Rangers team, which has won 18 games in a row and has the chance against Forfar tonight to rewrite the club’s post-war record, against the early-90s vintage, far less the men of long shorts and thick moustaches who won 22 consecutive games in the 1898/99 season.
That record has never been seriously threatened and it would be regarded by some as sacrilege if McCoist’s team of third-tier dwellers were to become owners of the most prolific sequence of results in the history of Rangers. Better, then, to reflect the unique set of circumstances that has led them to become near- invincible in League 1 and insert an explanatory asterisk alongside anything of statistical merit that they achieve, while congratulating them on their refusal to let the winning habit slip at any point since the league season began on 10 August.
It was seven days before that, four months ago now, when Rangers last tasted defeat, in a preliminary League Cup encounter with tonight’s opposition.
“It has been a fantastic achievement, especially when you look at some of the results over the weekend,” McCoist said yesterday, referring chiefly to Motherwell’s Scottish Cup exit at the hands of League 2 also-rans Albion Rovers. “The boys have been great. The vast majority of people – and rightly so – expect us to win the league and in the vast, vast majority of games, we take that on board. But at the same time we’ve still got to go and do it and win games, and to consecutively win that amount, I think it’s a great achievement.”
It is hard to begrudge McCoist a degree of satisfaction over a demonstration of continuous authority over lesser teams that has lasted a third of a year. Celtic lost in the League Cup at home to Morton in that period, and Motherwell went down to their neighbours from Coatbridge, despite Stuart McCall having had Rovers watched numerous times, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each of their players and passing on this reconnaissance to his own charges.
Upsets sometimes just happen, McCoist said with a shrug yesterday, as he outlined the kind of research he has commissioned ahead of tonight’s visit of sixth-placed Forfar to Ibrox. The former striker, who will bring Andy Murdoch back into his squad and hopes to involve Dean Shiels, said: “We treat every team the same. We’ll have had them watched three times by at least two different people and I’ll have match reports on my desk of those games.
“I also do a bit of homework, I’ll phone one or two people who have been to their games. I’ll look over recent and old footage of them, our previous games against them, and the players will see the reports.
“We’ll also do an extensive piece of work on the opposition like set plays and throw-ins, so I’d like to think we are as thorough as we possibly can be. ”
Lee McCulloch has not spent much time of late pondering failure. In fact, he has recently spent some hours identifying for the purposes of a Christmas DVD his favourite all-time Rangers players. He admitted that exercise was significantly easier than applying any historical perspective to the strength of today’s team, who were denied a rare opportunity to prove themselves against Premiership opposition when the Scottish Cup fifth-round draw granted them a home tie against Ayr or Dunfermline.
“I feel I am playing in a Premiership team at the moment with the quality I have around me,” said the 35-year-old utility player yesterday. “The way we have started this season, our form and the stats would probably back me up in saying that. We’ve scored over 50 goals in the league, had 15 clean sheets and gone 18 wins in a row. All these stats indicate a Premiership-standard of team but we have to keep proving that. It’s hard to say where we would be in the Premiership right now. I wouldn’t say we’d win it but we’d definitely be up there with the quality we’ve got.”
McCulloch admitted it had not been easy to listen to criticism of Rangers’ failure to see off ten-man Falkirk on Saturday. To be fair, I have missed a penalty so we could have walked in with a 3-0 result.
“I can’t remember Falkirk creating a chance or having a clear shot at goal, while we’ve missed a couple of chances in addition to the goals we scored,” he said. “So I think the criticism is unjust and we totally deserved to win that game of football.”
Forfar head to Ibrox on a high after Martyn Fotheringham’s injury-time free kick earned a replay against Brechin City in the Scottish Cup on Saturday.
Manager Dick Campbell said: “Rangers have been formidable in the league this season but we are going there with a spring in our step. We are on a decent run of form just now and have not lost in six games.
“We have enjoyed two good matches with Rangers so far this season at our place and we can enjoy this one as well. I will be sending my team out to have a go, you can be sure of that.”