by Alan Clark | Assignments Editor
It might not feel like it. But tomorrow’s League One clash at home to Arbroath is the start of a new chapter at Rangers.
Or should that read – the closing of an old one?
From September 1st, the SFA’s year-long registration embargo imposed on the club came to a welcoming end. Originally given out as a punishment of Craig Whyte’s non-payment of tax while in charge of Rangers, it was thrown out in court as being unlawful.
However Stewart Regan and co couldn’t resist including it in the five-way agreement to transfer our membership of the association, from old to new company, and the embargo stood from 2012 till now.
Ally McCoist was forced into only signing free agents and registering them officially on the 1st of September. To play in certain league and cup fixtures, new additions had to be used as trialists and that came with its own problems – four couldn’t play at all, none were allowed in the League Cup, none allowed past the first round of the Ramsden’s Cup and McCoist could only use two per league game, for three games maximum.
Thankfully this nonsense is at an end and Rangers have a full pool to choose from for the rest of the season and beyond. That pool of players is at excessively large number and many fans will have been disappointed that the transfer window closed without more departures from the squad, or wage bill more importantly.
Tomorrow’s game at Ibrox, sure to be watched by another incredible amount of supporters, is the club’s fifth league game and so far so good. Four emphatic wins over Brechin City (4-1), Stranraer (3-0), Airdrie (6-0) and East Fife (5-0) have been very pleasing and encouraging to see.
What’s peculiar about that form is that only two trialists have been allowed to play in each – Nicky Law and Jon Daly in the first three, Cammy Bell and Nicky Clark in the fourth. Given the embarrassing League Cup exit to Forfar Athletic was when no trialists were allowed on the field, how could just two new additions have changed this team so much?
It’s a question we’ll probably never work out the answer to. The make-up of the starting 11 is about to change once again though as all eight new captures are eligible, including the four that were playing a foreign football association last season; Bilel Mohsni, Richard Foster, Steven Smith and Arnold Peralta.
With Lee Wallace a doubt, Smith will likely make his competitive debut again for Rangers for a second time in his career, with Mohsni likely to be one of the centre backs. McCoist has a decision to make at right-back; continue with the in-form and promising youngster Kyle McAusland, or field experienced new signing Foster. It’s hard to judge what he’ll pick.
Ian Black’s suspension should mean Peralta will join Mohsni in making his first competitive start for the royal blue of the Rangers. Bell, Daly, Law and Clark are likely to start as well. Some shift in personnel from even the last game the team played, the 5-0 thumping of East Fife at the end of August.
There is validity in keeping skipper Lee McCulloch in the team after his treble in said 5-0 win, but the hugely impressive starts to their Ibrox careers from Daly and Clark makes me hope the forward partnership is the latter. Knowing McCoist, he may accommodate Jig at the back in place of Seb Faure, who’s also made a decent start to this campaign.
There are also the questions of who he plays alongside Law and Macleod. Will it be David Templeton? Most likely, but the former Hearts player hasn’t been at it so far. Dean Shiels, Robbie Crawford, Barrie McKay and Fraser Aird will hope it’s them that get the nod.
When you try and pick a starting 11, with all new signings now available, you realise just how big this squad is. Even with injuries and suspensions that we know of today, there is still plenty of players to choose from – and some. McCoist and the backroom team will argue that’s exactly what they wanted - competition for places, several players to play in each position and experience blended with youth.
But there has to be a balance of the last point in that last sentence – we can’t have all our younger players on the bench or playing regularly for the under-20s teams only. They need first-team action as much as possible and this is perhaps my biggest gripe with the size of the squad. Crawford has started pretty well this season and there’s a big chance he’ll be dropped to the bench or even out the team completely for tomorrow. There’s plenty others to name as well.
But you could argue it is far better having selection headaches than having hardly any players and having to rely solely on young players to get you through a season. Let’s hope the on-form team just now isn’t affected negatively by the influx of new players that are going to join it. The on-field performances have been extremely encouraging and a nice distraction from boardroom shenanigans.
So, the league looks likely to be a foregone conclusion and we’re already out the League Cup. We have a hard task of travelling away to Queen of the South on Tuesday and if we win that, we’re into the last four of the Ramsden’s Cup. This is a competition that, while not important, we should be winning and it is one I expect we will win this year.
Then there is the Scottish Cup. We have a wage bill that is the second highest in Scotland and a squad that could compete in the top half of the Scottish Premiership – with the signings we have made one could argue Rangers would be close to the top two. In that case, there is no reason that Rangers could not go all the way in the Scottish Cup.
The minimum expectation should be the last eight or last four, but even that wouldn’t be looked upon as an achievement. Rangers are the most successful club in the world and even given the fact we are a third-tier team at present, we should be aiming to win every tournament we enter.
That said, to go all the way (or even just the final) in the Scottish Cup, Rangers will have to avoid drawing Celtic. It might hurt some fans to hear this, but Celtic are better on and off the park just now and it wouldn’t be nice facing them in a game at present.
Comparing the squad to last year with the current one, we have a far more realistic chance of cup glory now. There’s nothing wrong with aiming high – we are Rangers after all. A chapter in our history is closed with the embargo over, and on the park at least we move forward.
This will be a defining year for McCoist – last year’s squad was hastily put together and included many youngsters who hadn’t played in the first team ever before. It was also a season where the giant Rangers had to face Third Division clubs at grounds they’d never heard of less expected to be so ramshackle.
This year, the signings are pre-planned and some look to the future as well as top-flight experience being added. This season is McCoist’s team, no doubt about it. If he can’t satisfy fans this term, there’s not much space left to negotiate him remaining as manager.
The signs so far have been good in this early part of the campaign. Let’s enjoy this attacking, aggressive and winning team that McCoist has so far delivered us in the SPFL League One and hope it continues on and on.