McCoist’s use of the word “will” recalled those blithely optimistic assertions made by candidates on voting day in the face of every opinion poll predicting wipe-out for their hopes. The Rangers manager finds himself in a similar position. Few people are of the opinion that the Ibrox club will arrest their recent slump at the home of their bitter rivals, whose results have been heading in the complete opposite direction.
The defeat inflicted on the champions by St Mirren on Saturday was their second in three away games. In all, Rangers have dropped eight points from their past six matches. Failure to win this evening would make for their poorest return from a seven-game league sequence since they frittered away a lead that condemned them to their last league loss, back in May 2008.
It can only prey on the minds of the Ibrox club that in early November, albeit having played two games more than Neil Lennon’s side, they were 15 points ahead of them. That gap has been reduced to a point. Yet, if that atrophy of Rangers’ advantage, through the combination of Celtic’s eight-game SPL winning run and their own devoid displays, ought to make McCoist grimace, he is enough of a politician to paint on a smile and suggest otherwise. It was put to him yesterday that plenty of his own supporters would say his team are now facing a crisis. “I certainly wouldn’t call it a crisis,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot of times which were certainly a lot worse than they are now, times when we weren’t sitting at the top of the league. So I would be dead against calling it a crisis.
“Would Celtic rather go into this game not playing well but one point ahead? For me you’d rather be ahead. No matter what happens, when you ask me for my reaction afterwards I’m going to be positive – no matter what. And I think we will win. It’s three points – three vital points – but that’s all it is. The fact is you don’t need to win this game to win the league – but if I was offered the option I’d rather win these games and win the league. Celtic took more points from the Old Firm games last season and we won the league.”
And Celtic suffered that unusual fate by dint of winning the festive derby fixture, at Ibrox last January, that they weren’t given an earthly in. Momentum is a decent guide but by no means a guarantee. “It doesn’t bother me [about momentum],” McCoist said. “I’d still be confident, keen and eager if we’d won our last 10 or if we’d lost our last two or three. I do believe we will win the game, absolutely, because I think we have great belief in the boys here. Make no mistake, it’s a tough place to go and win but I would not be doing my job if I was sitting here being anything other than very positive and indeed confident.”
At present, Rangers have lost the aura of a team capable of finding a way to win, whatever the circumstances. They have started to concede cheap goals and, with principal goal source Nikica Jelavic appearing narked at times, they have stopped exhibiting a certainty they will net them. Yet McCoist can point to the fact that in the first couple of months of the season his side were doing what Celtic are now: racking up the wins without racking up cricket scores.
“Outwith the St Mirren game when they won 5-0, their good run is the same as our good run [of nine straight wins],” McCoist said. “The most important thing is winning games. Even if you win by the odd goal you still get the same three points as you would if you win by three, four or five goals. There is a similarity with our form. There weren’t many games when we went out and were cruising to victory, but that’s an indication of what the league is like. It’s as tight as its been for a number of years in terms of teams being organised and more than capable of nicking a goal against the Old Firm.”
McCoist may be facing his first trip to Celtic Park as manager but there is little likelihood of his presence in, and around, the technical area generating as much of a media frenzy as when he was last on duty at the ground, in February. His face-off with Lennon at the end of a night Rangers lost a Scottish Cup quarter-final replay and had three players red-carded created convulsions throughout the country and beyond that played a central role in the creation of new laws governing the behaviour of supporters at football grounds that were passed by the Scottish Parliament last week. McCoist doesn’t feel there is an extra onus on him to be restrained because of the furore over events 10 months ago.
“Not at all. It’s a fantastic fixture. The vast, vast majority of fans behave themselves in the correct manner and the fact that we’ve been talking about this game for the last five or six weeks would indicate that – whether we’re masochistic or not – we’re all looking forward to it. I’m sure I can speak for Neil as well and say he’ll be looking forward to it. All over the country – all over the UK, all over the world – they’ll be watching the game. There’s not a lot of things come out of Glasgow or Scotland that grabs the attention of the world, so let’s be proud of it.”
Attention was grabbed globally for all the wrong reasons by February’s confrontation. “It was a storm in a teacup, let’s be honest about it,” McCoist said.