Ally McCoist: Cup record is acid test for Rangers

Lee McCulloch lifts the Scottish Cup after beating Queen of the South in 2008. Picture: SNS
Lee McCulloch lifts the Scottish Cup after beating Queen of the South in 2008. Picture: SNS
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McCoist desperate to improve record in knockout ties, he tells Andrew Smith

RANGERS’ last six attempts to make an impression on the major domestic cup competitions have floundered before the semi-final stage. That has never happened before in the post-war era. Five of these early exits have come in the tenure of Ally McCoist. Certainly, then, you don’t have to look too far to see how important Friday night’s Scottish Cup fifth round tie at home to Dunfermline is to the Ibrox club and their manager. Legitimately, assessments of Rangers’ season will not be made on the basis of their winning a League 1 wherein they have a budget 25 times that of part-time rivals. Judgement will depend on whether they can make the latter stages of the country’s oldest competition for the first time since 2009.

McCoist, not unreasonably, ventures that the liquidation that caused the demise of the old Rangers and necessitated a reincarnated club starting again in the, then, Third Division certainly hasn’t helped his cause when leading a team into cup ties. Even a transfer embargo that forced him to make do with last year’s squad can’t explain away the League Cup loss to Forfar in August, mind.

The recasting of his team with a raft of previously Scottish top flight-based players has McCoist of the opinion that the current Rangers should be bracketed with Premiership teams outwith Celtic when it comes to cup ambitions. Even on that measure, Rangers are not fulfilling their knockout potential. Two last-four appearances have been earned by Aberdeen, Hibernian, Hearts, Falkirk and Inverness, while Kilmarnock, St Mirren, Motherwell and Ayr United have been in one semi-final since Rangers last featured at that stage in either of the country’s major cups.

“My cup record isn’t good. I know that,” says McCoist. “It would be nice to put that right. The League Cup this season brought a really disappointing result [at Forfar] but we didn’t get a chance to play the side that we have now. That’s not an excuse or a reason, just a statement of fact. We are in the final of the Ramsdens Cup and that’s a good thing for us for where we are at this moment. But it would be nice to get a good run in the Scottish Cup. Not for me but for the supporters.

“I would point to [off-field events] as playing a part in not reaching semi-finals. I would class us just now the same as Motherwell, St Johnstone and Hibs. That is the kind of players and team we have at the moment. Our hopes of getting to a semi-final or final would be exactly the same at those teams – you need a bit of luck. Celtic will be favourites to win everything they are still involved in this season but, in recent years, Hearts have won a cup and so have Kilmarnock and St Mirren.”

It is a year to the day since Rangers were ripped apart away to Dundee United in the same round of the Scottish Cup. McCoist is confident that it would be a more adept and capable Ibrox side that would provide the test for any top-flight team this time – not least for the fact that Jon Daly, chief destroyer of cup hopes at Tannadice, now leads the line for Rangers.

“I refuse to tempt fate but I think we have got a bit more experience in our team,” adds McCoist. “We have got lads who have won cups like Cammy Bell with Kilmarnock, big Jon and Blacky [Ian Black] has won it with Hearts. It doesn’t guarantee you success or victories but we have guys who can plainly win cup games. I am just hopeful that will be the case on Friday. In signing Jon we added something we needed, someone who plays in Jon’s position the way he does. He is that type of centre-forward who is an aerial threat and a big threat at set plays. I can remember him scoring from one set play against us in that game. That didn’t specifically sell Jon to us because we knew what he was like. But it certainly alerted us to that type of centre forward we hadn’t had for a long time. Cross balls and set plays into the box against us was our Achilles heel last season. We didn’t really have a lot of height, strength or power. Jon has obviously helped that.

“He is a quiet, solid and dependable guy who you like looking after the younger players in the dressing room,” says McCoist. “He is a good leader and we are lucky in that respect with Lee McCulloch and Lee Wallace as well. I heard stories of how important he was in the Tannadice dressing room. I spoke to Peter Houston at great length and he had nothing but good things to say on and off the park. That is very important.”