Neilson playing ‘mind games’, says Ally McCoist

McCoist says he imagines Neilson had his tongue firmly placed in his cheek while making the comment. Picture: SNS
McCoist says he imagines Neilson had his tongue firmly placed in his cheek while making the comment. Picture: SNS
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RANGERS manager Ally McCoist elected to treat his Hearts counterpart Robbie Neilson’s comments about referees favouring the Ibrox side as little more than a humorous diversion ahead of the first Championship match between the clubs at Ibrox on Sunday.

Neilson had claimed he had been playing ten v 11 in training in preparation for their visit to Govan, a veiled reference to the harsh dismissal of Hibernian’s Danny Handling, shown a straight red card by John Beaton for a clumsy challenge on David Templeton during Rangers’ 2-1 Petrofac Training Cup victory on Tuesday.

McCoist, however, refused to take the bait when the thorny matter was raised at Rangers’ training complex yesterday. “Well, if there’s anybody who knows about getting red cards maybe Robbie’s better qualified than most, shall we say,” he grinned.

“Is it mind games? Absolutely it’s mind games. And, by the way, I’ve watched the Hibs tackle again from Tuesday night and it is a red card. I agreed with [Alan] Stubbsy at the time: I wasn’t sure.

“I thought it was a card-and-a-half at the time. But, having watched it again, I think he does come in with the scissors. I don’t think there was any real malice [and] the fact Hibs aren’t appealing maybe indicates how they feel.

“But I did have a chuckle at Robbie’s comments, yes. He’s in the management door 30 seconds and he’s playing mind games already…

“Listen, we all got a giggle out of it and we took it the way it was meant. I would imagine he had his tongue firmly placed in his cheek while making the comment! Maybe he believes it, but I would have thought it was a tongue-in-cheek remark and if we can’t have a smile, then we are all toiling.”

Wing-back Richard Foster, meanwhile, believes that Neilson’s remarks betray a lack of confidence from the rookie manager, considering it to be the footballing equivalent of whistling in the dark. “It’s something that has been put out there to try and potentially get into the referee’s head,” he said. “They’ve got to do everything to win the game and if that’s what he thinks he needs to do to win the game then I think we’re in a better position.

“They’ll be going into this season wanting to get back into the Premiership and fair enough. I’m a great believer you’ve to do whatever it takes to win the game. Sometimes you’ve got to bend the rules, sometimes you’ve got to break the rules: it’s all about winning.

“He’ll be telling his players they are good enough to beat us. He’s just putting that out in the press to maybe try and unsettle us, maybe unsettle the referee. It won’t affect us or his players.”

Rangers may have sold only 18,000 season tickets but Hearts fans have taken up their allocation and at least 35,000 people are expected to watch Lee

McCulloch unfurl the League 1 flag prior to the meeting between the bookies’ first and second choices to take the title.

Meanwhile, McCoist revealed that he has been given categoric assurances from chief executive Graham Wallace that there will be no further financial problems at the club.

“I just listen to the chief executive on these things,” he said. “In non-footballing matters I take his advice. He is telling me that – like any other club – we would like to be in a better financial position but we are in no serious difficulty at all.”

Indeed, McCoist is optimistic that he will be in a position to further strengthen his squad before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.

“We have spoken about that, yes,” he said. “There is room for movement both ways. It’s not just as clear cut as one in and one out. I think [the budget is] slightly less than it was last year but we are where we are. I have been given the budget and I can’t spend much more money on players. But there is room for negotiation and movement within the budget and I would be hopeful there can be more activity.”