There can be no denying that no rookie manager has ever had to suffer what Ally McCoist did. In no country’s premier league has a side the size of Rangers ended up in administration before the club’s company got liquidated, forming a new one, while baggage enough to fill Heathrow continued to blight the team and torment a manager who should have been enjoying the glorious privilege of leading the team he loves.
McCoist was denied that, so appraising his managerial skills does not come under the same rules as with any other manager in the business. Being the face of the club during the horrendous administration period and effectively carrying the side’s troubles on his shoulders single-handedly even managed to receive (possibly reluctant) sympathy from that dubious chap who manages the club’s former rivals. That is how bad it got for Rangers and Ally McCoist.
|This does not even sum up how bad McCoist felt.|
So it is with trepidation that I try to weave my way through that period and attempt to evaluate McCoist’s overall managerial capabilities where it comes to the really important stuff; the results on the pitch. It will not be easy; the past year has been saturated with so much off-topic pulava that finding one’s way to the turf is fraught with peril. But that said I will give it a go.
Last season was McCoist’s debut as solo boss; and it started out slowly with a turgid 1-1 draw at home to Hearts but one which featured a vital goal from a player who grew to incredible prominence in the following months, Steven Naismith. A string of convincing wins then followed and saw McCoist’s Rangers race ahead in the league to at one point having a 15-point cushion over Celtic. Naismith had been crucial to this success, as this blog discussed last season, and the shape of the team had him as an integral part of its smooth operations.
The moment the momentum changed was when this aforementioned player was injured in a hard-fought victory at Aberdeen on the 29th of October. Naismith was ruled out for the rest of the season and despite the following match being another home victory, the subsequent visit from St Johnstone saw Lomas’ men hold Rangers to a 0-0 draw.
With Celtic suddenly finding form and racing to 5-0 wins, Rangers’ momentum crashed, and a defeat at Rugby Park now saw 1 point from 6. Naismith’s absence was proving a serious problem, and it was McCoist’s first test. Unfortunately he was completely unable to resolve it. The signing of Nigerian international Sone Aluko did little to stem the tide of change, despite some spirited performances from the former Aberdeen winger, and before long, and significantly well before administration had sprung up the former lead had been reversed and Rangers now trailed Celtic by an increasing margin.
Put simply McCoist did not have the ability to compensate for losing Naismith. This is not a completely incriminating situation; Real Madrid would be weakened without Ronaldo, ditto Barcelona without Messi, likewise Man Utd without Van Persie. But McCoist’s solutions initially were quite bizarre. In the abysmal draw at home with St Johnstone the completely ineffectual central midfielder Matt McKay was asked to play a left wing role with the similarly inept Alejandro Bedoya out on the right. It was understandable this team would struggle.
|Not one of the better signings in recent years.|
January saw the loss of star striker Nikica Jelavic and the continued deterioration of the team with the only incoming being Swedish U21 forward Mervan Celik.
As administration begun football became second-best to the drama off the pitch, and fans wrote the season off completely. The situation had become that of forgiving and forgetting McCoist’s failings during the first season and wiping the slate clean for the next season, wherever the side would play.
So, with that in mind, let us see how McCoist is doing this year. His debut in the Irn Bru Scottish Third Division saw the side start reasonably brightly against Second Division Brechin City in the Ramsden’s cup, but the performance fell to pieces before 90 minutes were up and the home side (and their hedge) had their heads high after holding their illustrious visitors to extra time following a 1-1 draw.
Extra time saw Lee McCulloch save the day with a header but it did not gloss over the rather feeble display which McCoist was unable to arrest at half time.
In the Scottish League Cup tie which followed at Ibrox against East Fife, McCoist seemed to have fixed the problems. A resounding 4-0 thumping of the visitors and it seemed that Ally’s men had finally grasped the challenge ahead of them. Not so.
The next league match saw a trip to Peterhead, a side mooted as being Rangers’ main rivals in this league (well-substantiated given they top the table). And it proved a tough trip with only a 90th minute equaliser from striker Andy Little snatching a barely-earned point for Rangers. Again, McCoist had been unable to either motivate his side effectively, or organise them well enough. Many suggested he was playing a 3 at the back system, and a slight lack of cohesion there saw it difficult to confirm or deny that.
And this pattern has been the blight of McCoist’s second season in charge so far. His strikers and midfield are generally doing enough at Ibrox, which is easy enough to motivate one’s self for when 50,000 fans are in attendance; but the boss is seriously struggling to counter determined sides on their own patch in front of considerably more modest crowds. The players appear either lacking in desire or certainty about their role, and predictable long-balls result from the back.
McCoist’s defenders, put simply, are having a terrible season as well. Goian and Bocanegra (prior to departure) looked pale imitations of their old selves, with positional sense non-existent and a real lack of desire going into the challenge. Broadfoot, often the butt of the abuse, may have been distinctly poor as well before his departure to Blackpool, but it appeared to have spread to Ross Perry at RB who was comically awful in a position he has previously played so well.
Enter some new signings; Emilson Cribari and Anestis Argyriou. Cribari appears to wonder what he is doing, with dreadful pace and pitiful man-marking along with quite despairing lack of understanding as to where to sit. Argyriou looked below par against Elgin, but it was Perry’s naivety which cost a goal.
|Argyriou, the club’s new right back.|
Is this McCoist’s fault? Who knows. He does not seem to have the right balance away from home yet, with it not being unnoticed that Rangers have drawn every match on their travels. At home he does not appear to be struggling in the same way, given the players will not lack inspiration. But the defence is an Achilles heel regardless of where the side plays.
Is McCoist good enough to be Rangers’ manager? It is very difficult to answer that question but the truth is since the side lost Naismith to injury last season, there has not been a single sustained run of form to the nature of 5+ victories in a row. That is October to the present day. A few small patches of 3 in a row but nothing higher. Barry Ferguson once said that until the side had won 10 in a row (years ago during a very poor spell while he was at the club) he did not believe they had turned it around. And that seems about right.
The current season sees our best winning streak at 2 matches. 2 occasions. One of them is ongoing, and the trip to Annan on the 15th will see if McCoist’s Rangers can breach that 3-win run mark.
If the journey to 7th-placed Anna Athletic does not yield a victory for Rangers, it may be the first time valid questions can be asked of McCoist’s capabilities as Rangers manager.
He was given a clean slate this season given his remarkable conduct during last season, and regardless of football results will always be a legend who sacrificed more for the club than any other individual (bar those tragic losses in the various disasters) in the club’s history. But slowly it is about results on the pitch again, and for Rangers to progress as an entity, back to where it belongs, McCoist must prove he is capable of steering the ship in that direction.
Sadly, sentiment, even well-intentioned, does not bring success.