04 December 2014

The End of a Tired Journey

by Garry Carmody | Contributor

"For the third season in a row, Rangers crash out of the Challenge Cup."

It's a line that's quite difficult to sink in. Last night, on the 89th minute, thousands of heads dropped in unison - another battering to Rangers' already severely depleted reputation was complete. An unforgivably comfortable 2-0 lead thrown away, but the worst part? Nobody seemed particularly surprised and - although embarrassing - it isn't even Rangers' biggest concern.

Even before the lead was thrown away last night, there was an eery atmosphere around Recreation Park last night. From the first minute Rangers were flat and completely devoid of ideas. It was a first half plagued with lethargy and if anything, the team was lucky they didn't fall behind within the 45 minutes. However, for once, the fans didn't respond. There was no rallying cry, no chanting and not even a great deal of anger purveyed. It was all just too familiar - fans know this is the norm under Ally McCoist, and even a scraped win wouldn't have covered the cracks.

The harsh realities of Ally McCoist's failures and negligence are coming home to roost this year. Whilst there were obvious issues in the last two years, it would have been arguably difficult to justify paying a seven-figure sum to get rid of the management team that was technically fulfilling its function. However, this season it is different - the pressure has cranked up a notch, a challenge has been provided and this side haven't risen to it; they have arguably regressed.

Ally McCoist is now approaching the halfway stage in his fourth season as manager at Ibrox. The one painstakingly realistic truth that surrounds this season? There is absolutely no indication he has made any improvements as a manager following his long apprenticeship under Walter Smith. Even those that remember the cup games he took charge of as assistant - those feel as familiar as ever in 2014. The same issues that were laid bare during his early days as manager are still there. His inability to captivate fans during the fourth and third tier of Scottish football was bemoaned time and time again. And now, as Rangers embark upon "Stage Three", the same problems exist.

The Ally McCoist question has changed, however. For two years, the main concern of fans was: "is there a philosophy and a long-term plan in place here?". The questions were correctly asked, but never answered in more than clich├ęs. However, that is not the question this year. There is no time for romanticism and nostalgia - Rangers have a fight on their hands this season that they haven't known over recent years. Forget Alloa - of course it was disappointing and embarrassing - but the real damage was done at Tynecastle last Saturday. 

Rangers had a proper challenge to rise to then, and they failed dismally. Time and time again, when the pressure has been on, McCoist and his side have crumbled. If every fan is honest with themselves, I imagine most will know this hasn't been working for three seasons - but it's only now that we're seeing the real consequences of this. Rangers now find themselves nine points behind Hearts - a position even the greatest McCoist cynic could barely have envisaged. And instead of looking to peg that lead back, Rangers currently only look capable of widening the deficit between themselves and a bullish, young Hearts team - ironically, everything McCoist should have set about building in 2012.

McCoist needs saved from Rangers as much as Rangers need saved from McCoist. Needless to say that the manager has been handsomely rewarded over his time at Ibrox, but only the harshest critics could not help but feel sympathy for the way he has been left hung out to dry by boardroom crisis after boardroom crisis. His existence as a bulwark against directorial incompetence is a fallacy, and one could even argue that his continued employment at the club only serves as a justification for the owners rather than a stance against them. Unfair as that may be, that was part and parcel of the role McCoist was landed with when he lead us though the dark days of administration. His role is a poisoned chalice; expected to be more than a manager but ultimately powerless.

Alas, that ties into the current problem. Severe mismanagement means Rangers cannot afford to pay off McCoist unless an owner stumps up the cash. The decision rests within his own hands. Can the man continue to look his players and the fans in the eyes and say he is still positive for Rangers? Can he truly say he is the man to turn the club round and peg back a rampant Hearts side ? The number of fans that believe the answer to these questions to be "yes" are lowering by the day, yet this can and would still be an amicable split. Myself and thousands of others would be heartbroken to see it turn into a nasty divorce.

Every man must know his time to step up - Ally McCoist did that admirably in 2012. However, every man must also know his time to admit defeat.

That time is now. For the good of Rangers Football Club and Ally McCoist himself, a new management team is needed sooner rather than later.