ALLY MCCOIST has always talked a good game, and he was as eloquent as ever yesterday as he explained why his self-belief had not wavered after Rangers’ midweek defeat by Alloa, and why he remained the right man to manage the team.
As he spoke with evident sincerity about his continued commitment to the club, it was easy – it always is – to feel a lot of sympathy for the former striker. Even allowing for the fact that McCoist has been handsomely recompensed for doing a less than spectacular job, he deserves credit for the determined manner in which he has stuck to a thankless task.
Against a backdrop of administrative and financial chaos, McCoist has remained the human, acceptable face of Rangers, and continues to command the respect and gratitude of a significant proportion of the club’s supporters. But although the current manager will always be infinitely more likeable than the gallery of grotesques who have held sway behind the scenes at Ibrox, that in itself is not enough to maintain the loyalty of another section of fans, who are growing increasingly concerned about the team’s form, with that loss at Alloa being only the latest in a lengthening series of discouraging results.
McCoist’s answer is that Rangers remain on track to complete their three-year mission of returning to the top division of Scottish football in the shortest possible time. And, while the midweek defeat means the Petrofac Cup will not appear in the Ibrox trophy cabinet any time soon, they are still in the League Cup and the Scottish Cup.
And so, despite saying, with little fear of contradiction, that Wednesday night had been one of his most dismaying experiences as a football manager, he insisted that he and the players could and would bounce back. “I wouldn’t say it’s as low as I’ve been, but certainly I was low,” he said.
“One hundred per cent I was low – there was no doubt about that. I was low. As low as I can remember. But you know, you sit down, you get up the next morning and you go again.
“Not pleasant at all,” he continued when asked to describe the past couple of days. “Nothing worse than the last 20 minutes on Wednesday night, to be honest. It’s been tough, absolutely tough, but we just need to regroup and refocus. Or keep the focus, rather, not even refocus, and regroup and press on.
“It’s been a tough three years and I’ve said all along it’s going to be a bumpy ride. There will be ups and downs along the way. That’s certainly proved to be the case. I wasn’t euphoric after a good performance and a great result against Kilmarnock [in the Scottish Cup last Sunday]. And, as disappointed as we all are after Wednesday’s final 20 minutes, Wednesday evening, we regroup and we go again.
“Once you start feeling sorry for yourself you maybe take your eye off the ball a little bit. There was always going to be flak flying about throughout the last three years, and in the future there will be flak flying about. The fact of the matter is we have won two titles, and won them you’d have to say convincingly.
“We’ve got a job on our hands to win this year, but we still believe we can do it. And that is where all the focus is at this moment in time, on tomorrow’s game against Cowdenbeath and future league games.”
Whatever his shortcomings as a manager may be, there is little doubt that McCoist has shown immense resilience throughout his time in charge, dealing with a level of abuse from some fans that would have broken the spirit of many other managers. “I think having been there before helps, definitely,” he said when asked how he could keep himself sane and relatively upbeat in the wake of such abuse, which, predictably, was particularly severe on Wednesday night.
“Having gone down the road of not being flavour of the month certainly helps. I don’t think there’s anything from that point of view that will shock me. I think the vast majority of fans will have their opinion, but I don’t think any of them wouldn’t appreciate that I’m certainly attempting to do my best. It might not be enough for some of them, I fully appreciate that, as with most managers and coaches. But I definitely do think that the majority of fans, no matter their opinion of me, would appreciate that we are doing our best.
“It might not be good enough in some people’s eyes, I accept that. But that’s a comfort that they do know we’re doing our best and will continue to give of our best.”
Yes, it is a comfort to some people, and it is certainly better than having a manager who is not trying to do his best. But the obvious point is that another manager’s best might be better.
The same point could be made when it comes to Rangers’ less-than-stately progress through the divisions. It is a fact that they have won two successive promotions, and they are still very much in the running to win a third – through the play-offs if not automatically as champions. But, with another, more able manager in charge, might they have avoided some of the ups and downs of that bumpy ride of which McCoist spoke? In other words, might they now be a lot closer to Hearts than the actual nine-point gap between the two teams?
Of course, it would be a bit rich, to put this mildly, were the present board of directors to sack McCoist for not being up to the job. Their inability to keep the club on an even financial keel is arguably a greater threat to Rangers’ promotion hopes than any act of on-field ineptitude, and certainly any points penalty for an administration event would all but scupper their chances of catching Hearts at the top.
For the time being, it looks like the current board, with Mike Ashley holding the balance of power, will try to muddle through on two fronts. They want the Newcastle owner to keep them afloat, and they will reluctantly allow McCoist to oversee the promotion bid.
If he fails, that will be the end of his reign as manager. And even if he succeeds, there is a strong case to be made for appointing a more able coach to be in charge of the team’s first season in the Premiership. McCoist will continue to talk a good game for as long as he has the power of speech, but more and more people are turning a deaf ear to his impassioned pleas to be given more time.