Alan Pattullo: McCoist and Rangers starting to find their feet

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Might there be method in Charles Green’s madness, or at least in his rantings from last week when he appeared to suggest that the top clubs in Europe are scanning the Third Division results each week, and wishing it was they and not East Stirlingshire who were hosting the Ibrox club?

Green it seems is at least allowing McCoist to get on with managing the club, deflecting attention from the person many thought he might be preparing to jettison in the summer. Saturday’s 6-2 win over East Stirling could be viewed as the first time this season when the Ibrox side have won with something to spare on the road this season, but even then, against a side reduced to ten men, they 
conceded two goals.

East Stirling might have improved since the days when a book chronicling their fortunes came out with the title “Pointless”, but they remain perennial strugglers at the foot of the Third Division. Rangers are finally establishing themselves at the top of the league and have a table-top encounter against Elgin City to come this weekend. It isn’t Champions League glory nights of the sort it is hoped Celtic might experience this evening in Lisbon, but it is something, and better, of course, than there being no football being played in the name of Rangers at all. McCoist, however, would not be human if he did not feel some frustration at the personal cost of the Ibrox club’s troubles.

Celtic’s appointment with Benfica tonight offers another reason to reflect on the wildly different trajectories the managerial careers of both McCoist and Neil Lennon have taken. Once upon a time, both had been expected to battle it out for supremacy at the top end of the Scottish game. Although, privately, you imagine Lennon might have wished to be fending off a meaningful challenge from the rivals across the city, he has other, more glamorous business on which to focus. He has had little time to ponder the absence of Rangers from the fixture list.

McCoist, meanwhile, was expected to get on with the routine task of winning a Third Division championship, and there were groans when, rather than exploit the opportunity to develop young players in a first-team environment, Rangers began splurging money on high-salaried emigres from the Scottish Premier League.

But a closer look at the team-list reveals that Rangers are not quite fitting the profile of a playground bully, as expected.

While injury has restricted his options further, McCoist has had to rely more heavily on youth, something which many had hoped might be the case when it was confirmed that the club would have to re-start life in the Third Division.

Three young Scots were included in their starting line-up on Saturday, with three more coming on as substitute. There is a healthier mix of youth and experience than once was feared would be the case. It is proving a tougher test of McCoist’s abilities than many had expected. Perhaps it is summed up by the fact Kevin Kyle is leading their line at present in the absence of Fran Sandaza.

Remarkably, his goal was his first since scoring the winner for Hearts against Hibernian two years ago. It prompted a rather plaintive tweet from the striker: “[I] might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s tough, I’m here and I want to do well and I will,” he wrote.

It is difficult for the Rangers manager. He knows there can be little glory in a side leading a division where most of the teams are from towns with populations that are half the size of the home crowds at Ibrox each fortnight. In a parallel universe, he could be the one inspiring epic Champions League victories. He might take heart in the thought that Lennon once would have given anything at all for Celtic to come back from two goals down against Ross County at Hampden Park, back when it seemed as though he would never make the grade as manager. Indeed, this thought formed again little more than a year ago, when Celtic trailed Kilmarnock by three goals at half-time. Now he is proving his worth and more.

As for McCoist, and depending on the results of these 
latest league reconstruction proposals, it might be another three years before we can 
properly assess the oldest young manager in the Scottish game.

But, aged 50, McCoist is still involved in the game, still getting a hit of the smell of Ralgex in the dressing room. Some, 
including Craig Levein, will currently envy him this.