ALLY MCCOIST considers what he interprets as the clamour for Rangers and Celtic to be drawn together in the League Cup later today to be proof of how much the Ibrox club have been missed by Scottish football’s top flight.
The Ibrox manager was in impish form yesterday as he pondered the prospect of Rangers meeting with Celtic for the first time in nearly three years. The semi-final draw for the League Cup will be shown live this evening at 5:05pm on BBC 1 Scotland. Although Aberdeen and Dundee United make up the four teams involved, McCoist believes “everybody would look forward to the game” if Rangers and Celtic come out of the hat together.
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The clubs last met in April 2012, shortly before Rangers were forced to begin a trek back up the leagues after liquidation. McCoist has on several occasions talked of Rangers having to take their medicine. However, there is still clearly a sense of grievance being nursed by the Ibrox club. This was certainly discernible yesterday as McCoist claimed that few people would now argue the Ibrox club’s plight has not been detrimental to the Scottish game.
“Gone are the days of this ‘we don’t need Rangers in the top flight’,” he said. “Sadly, because it’s too late, there is now a little bit of common sense being shown. It’s clear we do need Rangers, Hearts and Hibs in the top flight.
“Gordon [Strachan] is doing a fantastic job for the national team, but in the best interest of Scottish football we need our big clubs in the top flight. With Rangers being in the lower divisions there was clearly going to be no scope for an Old Firm game unless we drew each other in the cup. The majority of people, if we do draw each other, can actively look forward to an Old Firm game and I more than anyone can appreciate that.”
“I’ve missed them and I think Scottish football has missed them,” he added.
McCoist reckoned that “pig-headedness” would be behind some club officials involved in the events of 2012 refusing to acknowledge the damage caused to the game. During that bitter summer, Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan envisaged something he described as “Armageddon” for the Scottish game in the event of Rangers being voted out of the top flight.
The other 11 then SPL clubs rejected Rangers’ application to rejoin the top tier by a unanimous majority. Later 29 of the 30 SFL clubs accepted Rangers as an associate member of the Scottish Football League but 25 voted for placing the newco club in the bottom tier, as opposed to the First Division.
The Ibrox club started their journey back through the divisions with a 2-2 draw at Peterhead in August 2012. There has been no Old Firm clash since Rangers lost 3-0 to Neil Lennon’s Celtic side in April of the same year. The League Cup semi-finals are scheduled for the weekend of 31 January/1 February.
“Knowing the pig-headedness of some of the people involved, no they won’t,” answered McCoist, when asked whether he felt some now regret how the the situation was handled. “But let’s be honest, was it for the greater good of Scottish football? Of course it wasn’t. It absolutely wasn’t. But we are where we are and things have happened. There is no use in looking back the way because we can’t change anything.”
With his side having again made it into the last four of a national cup competition – they reached the Scottish Cup semi-final last season – McCoist clearly felt justified in adopting a pugnacious bearing. Rangers also currently sit in second place in the Championship and begin their latest Scottish Cup campaign away to Dumbarton in the third round this afternoon.
He has, though, emerged from a week when his future was placed in question following the Rangers board’s acceptance of a £2 million emergency loan from Newcastle owner Mike Ashley. The decision led to the departure of one of McCoist’s chief allies in chief executive Graeme Wallace. Ashley’s increased influence led to the arrival of former Newcastle managing director Derek Llambias at Ibrox as a “football consultant”.
McCoist said he had spoken to current executive chairman David Somers on Thursday and he had “kept him up to speed” about the changes on the board and the search for a new chief executive. He has not spoken with Ashley.
But the manager seemed more vexed by the larger issue of the state of Scottish football. McCoist pointed to the thousands of empty seats at both Ibrox and Parkhead in midweek to illustrate how Rangers’ exile from the top tier has harmed the Scottish game. He proposed the notion that a Rangers v Celtic game would “fill the Maracana”. In contrast to comments made following his side’s victory over St Johnstone on Tuesday, McCoist appeared to will a clash with their rivals in the last four.
In midweek he was quoted as saying he would prefer to avoid Celtic in tonight’s draw, comments that were interpreted in some quarters as Rangers running scared of Ronny Deila’s team. The Rangers manager welcomed the opportunity yesterday to clarify what he meant.
“I need to explain myself because there have been one or two things written and said,” he said. “I am certainly not running scared or hiding behind the couch. I thought it was common sense what I was trying to say and I stand by that.
“As everyone can see from the bookies, Celtic are 4/5 favourites, everybody else is 9/2,” he added. “Because the bookies are very rarely wrong I thought it was common sense that you’d like a shot at one of the teams at 9/2 in terms of enhancing your chances of making the final. There is no ‘I want to avoid Celtic at all costs’. That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Deila observed that Rangers were the weakest team left in the League Cup because they were the only non-top-flight side left in the competition. This comment, too, was given some consideration yesterday by McCoist. “I don’t necessarily agree with that but I can understand his point,” he said. “In normal circumstances he would be right. But in the last few years nothing has been what it seems in Scottish football.
“You have three of the five biggest clubs in the country playing in the Championship. I understand Ronny but I don’t necessarily agree with him.”
There was a glint in McCoist’s eye as he moved on to deal with John Guidetti’s comments after the Celtic striker scored three times in the 6-0 win over Partick Thistle.
The on-loan Manchester City player was portrayed as issuing a brazen warning to Rangers, who he said were “going down” in the event of the teams meeting in the semi-final.
McCoist noted his feat of scoring three times against Partick Thistle, who had defender Stuart Brannigan sent off just before half-time. He put Guidetti’s comments down to giddiness.
“With the greatest of respect to John, I remember getting excited about my first hat-trick, but that was against 11 men,” smiled McCoist, who scored 28 hat-tricks for Rangers, the first coming in a League Cup final victory over Celtic at Hampden Park in 1984.
“He’s entitled to his opinion and that’s the way it is. But maybe, just maybe, he’s got caught up in the excitement of scoring his first hat-trick for Celtic – which, of course, we congratulate him on.”
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