Rangers outside the SPL: the story so far
Growing up watching Rangers, I was used to the club winning titles and being at the top level of Scottish football alongside Celtic. Only five years ago the club embarked on a wonderful run to the UEFA Cup final. However, those perceptions all changed last year when the club entered administration and then ultimately, liquidation.
The financial meltdown that occurred meant that from season 2012-13 onwards, the club would have to work their way back up through the divisions, starting in SFL Division Three. Players that had been heroes to fans, such as Allan McGregor and Steven Naismith, decided to walk away, while others, such as Lee McCulloch and Lee Wallace, were lauded for staying for the fight.
Ally McCoist’s side sit 20 points clear at the top of Division Three, and the title should be wrapped up in the next couple of weeks. In any normal season, this would be considered a success, and it can’t be denied that the club have certainly achieved their first objective for this season. However, the journey has been far from plain sailing, and many fans are now asking what direction the club is going in and whether McCoist is the right man for the job.
In truth, Rangers players have never looked comfortable in their new surroundings in Division Three. To a certain extent, fans were prepared to forgive early slip-ups on the road at Peterhead, Berwick and Annan as everyone got used to visiting these grounds.
However, the 1-0 defeat to Stirling Albion in October was a watershed moment, especially since it came only ten days after Rangers’ best performance of the season when they defeated Motherwell (who currently sit 2nd in the SPL) 2-0 in the League Cup at Ibrox. Fans were outraged that this away day hoodoo had still to be broken against part-time footballers, considering players such as Ian Black, Dean Shiels and David Templeton had been brought in from SPL teams on SPL wages.
The management at the club seem happy to promote a mantra of ‘just do enough to win each game’, rather than trying to implement a lasting footballing philosophy at the club. Young players such as Lewis MacLeod, Barrie McKay and Fraser Aird have impressed, but there has still been too much of a reliance on experienced players doing the job. Many fans including myself would be happy with a team made up completely of Murray Park graduates.
The home defeat to Annan last week was arguably the worst in Rangers history, and following on from further draws in 2013 at Ibrox to Elgin and Montrose, fans were rightly angry at players losing to a team that only train twice a week. Compare Rangers to Gretna in Division Three in 2004/2005 and you start to see how poor Rangers have been. Gretna won 32 out of their 38 games, scoring 130 goals in the process. This is exactly what Rangers should have been doing, but instead they have looked vulnerable just about every time they have taken to the pitch.
The news that Rangers’ main signing targets, once their embargo is lifted in September, are SPL players such as Jon Daly, Nicky Law and Cammy Bell hardly get fans overly excited. Younger players should be brought in to be developed for the top league and then sold on at a healthy profit.
There isn’t a Rangers fan out there that doesn’t want McCoist to succeed as a manager, considering his 355 goals as a player as well as becoming something of a statesman last year in ensuring the club was held together, along with the fans. However, he does seem tactically naïve and has been soundly beaten by Inverness and Dundee United in the Cup competitions, as well as losing to Queen of the South at Ibrox in the lower league Ramsdens Cup.
Being brutally honest, I can count on one hand the number of great performances under McCoist during his time as manager since May 2011. It might be unfair to judge him until his hands are untied from the transfer embargo, but arguably only Lee Wallace, Sone Aluko and Carlos Bocanegra have been successful signings that McCoist has made.
The league will be won, but there are far bigger issues surrounding the club at the moment and the summer needs to be used very wisely. This time the club will have a pre-season, and hopefully there will be a more positive style of play introduced for next season. If not, then McCoist could well be collecting a P45 and the club could soon be in a sense of limbo again.