Is the penny finally dropping for Ally?

McCoist looks as though he’s learned lessons from last year’s flops

The long suffering Rangers fans of the modern era will no doubt continue to have their club dragged through the dirt in the coming season as more and more details of the Craig Whyte & Charles Green cavalcade of misdemeanors and skulduggery come to the fore. Sadly these club issues will wrangle on, but the last few weeks have had a silver lining of sorts on the actual football side of things, as Ally McCoist has made some impressive signings straight off the bat since the controversial transfer embargo has been partially lifted.

Rangers Manager Ally McCoist
Stern of face – McCoist has his work cut out for him

The past and continued involvement of Charles Green and Craig Whyte is a matter for the courts, and is well out of the fans and McCoist’s hands, but it would appear that there are signs of life as the manager has wasted no time in pressing on with strengthening his squad for life in Division 2, with one eye clearly on shaping a team that could compete in Division 1 and the SPL.

Gers fans haven’t had much to smile about over the last few years, broadly speaking, but the latest 4 players to join Rangers should bring a smile to even the grumpiest of supporters.  Although Rangers cruised to the Scottish 3rd Division title, even the most devoted of fans grew weary of the performances (or lack of) being put in by some of last season’s signings. A distinct shift in signing policy was required; and it looks as though it’s being delivered.

The likes of Fran Sandaza and Ian Black were never going to be wise choices to slot into a Rangers side facing a gruesome fight in the Scottish 3rd Division – for very different reasons of course. Sandaza, although a gifted goal scorer, has never been the most energetic player. His lethargic style of play led to him being a divisive character at Dundee United, and generally unpopular during his short spell at Brighton. There’s no doubt that he can stick them away when given a decent supply; but when be faced with a muddy park, playing against hard-nosed joiners and labourers who’d like nothing better than to put you on your backside, his effectiveness soon diminishes.

Ian Black too has struggled to win over the Ibrox faithful. He succeeds where Sandaza fails in terms of endeavour, but his blatant lack of ability and over-reliance on a style of play that borders on thuggery leaves him well short in terms of credentials to hold down a place in the Rangers midfield.  Of course there have been glimpses of promise from the likes of Dean Shiels and David Templeton, but the overall style and standard of signing has been lacking from a long-term perspective.

McCoist has wasted no time in securing the services of 3 top SPL players and a 40-goal striker from Queen of the South. Jon Daly, Nicky Law, and Cammy Bell have been joined by Nicky Clark as Rangers look to take the 2nd Division by storm.

Jon Daly is no spring chicken at 30 years of age, but with a goal tally of 58 from 167 appearances for Dundee United available on a free transfer, McCoist would be a fool to turn him down. Again in stark difference to Sandaza, Daly can throw his weight about and isn’t afraid to mix it up when it comes to tackling hard. His vast experience in England’s lower divisions while playing with Stockport, Bury, Grimsby, and Hartlepool will be drawn upon again as this same grit and determination will be required to guide Rangers up through the divisions here in Scotland.

Cammy Bell was something of a surprise when you consider Rangers already have a quality keeper in Neil Alexander. Ongoing contract debates with Alexander, and a propensity to concede goals due to lapses in concentration last season have clearly lead his manager to look for alternatives. In Scotland’s lowest division, Alexander managed just 12 clean sheets in matches where Rangers picked up all 3 points. Cammy Bell has his best years ahead of him at just 26 years of age, and could easily hold on to the no.1 jersey when Rangers eventually return to the SPL. His impressive performances over the last 7 years for Killie even led to peripheral inclusion in the Scotland setup. Bell will be around for a while at Rangers if he plays his cards right, but will come under the same scrutiny as Alexander if he fails to hit the ground running.

The acquirement of Nicky Law’s signature caught everyone off guard. Law was at the heart of the Motherwell midfield this season as they punched above their weight to finish 2nd in the SPL.  He’s attracted attention from the Championship, and reports even linked him with SPL Champions Celtic, so a move to the Scottish 2nd Division, albeit with Rangers, was a surprise to everyone. At just 25, he too could remain as a first team pick for McCoist when the club get back to the big-time. He’s shown himself to be strong in the tackle, but with a decent engine to go box to box, and with the ability to split defences with a clever pass. Law has cut his teeth in England’s lower divisions, having spent time with Sheffield United, Yeovil, Bradford, and Rotherham. He’ll be one to watch for Rangers this season and beyond, if his performances last season were anything to go by.

Away from the SPL, Queen of the South striker Nicky Clark also joined the ranks at Ibrox this week. McCoist shattered the delusion that Rangers would simply be cherry picking players from the SPL, as he opted for Clark who shone in the 2nd Division and Ramsdens Cup last year. He rattled in 40 goals last season, and knows only too well the pressures of playing for Rangers if he’s been listening to his father, Sandy Clark. It’s fair to say he’s not proved himself at the highest level, but finding the net 40 times in a season at just 21-years of age makes him a hot prospect for the future. It’ll be interesting to see if he can replicate or better his tally this season, given the increase in pressure brought on by playing for a bigger club.

Given the way the last 3 years have gone, we know that there’ll be more twists and turns to come in this seemingly never-ending saga of ownership, debt, EBTs, title deeds, liquidation, and every other sensationalised story that’s landed at the gates of Ibrox in recent times, but credit must be given to McCoist on this occasion for competently dealing with the task at hand – strengthening his squad. The road back to the big-time for Rangers will be a long and arduous one, and if success is to be achieved, then McCoist will need to deliver the right type of performance from the right type of signing. The real pressure starts now, and his latest signings will be expected to explode into action next season.

Have Rangers turned the corner after their Old Firm blues?

Hitthebyline introduces our latest contributor, Rangers fan Chris Mason. In his debut article for the site, Chris explores the optimistic notion that Rangers may well be back on the road to success after suffering a purple patch at the tail end of 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 
Rangers Talisman – Nikica Jelavic

 

January is typically a depressing month, and this January is no exception, particularly for Rangers fans. After witnessing what seemed like an unassailable lead at the top of the SPL cut back due to an alarming loss of form, then losing top spot to Celtic in the festive Old Firm clash, there feels little to be cheery about. On top of this, there is the re-opening of the transfer window, where Rangers will be faced with the all too familiar daily speculation about the departure of our best players. Then there is the looming dark cloud that is the clubs ongoing tax battle with HMRC.

First let’s take a look the end of 2011. A poor run of results at the end of the year was difficult to take. So many key players seemed to be playing within themselves, in particular, the usually stellar Davis and Jelavic. Defeats to Kilmarnock and St Mirren were embarrassing, with the lack of fight and creativity difficult to understand. Narrow victories over Dunfermline and Caley Thistle at home did little to build confidence and the team went into the Old Firm game as underdogs. The game itself was stifled by the bad weather and although Rangers lost, the defeat was by virtue of the narrowest of margins, and I take comfort in the fact that there really isn’t too much between the two sides at the moment.

A negative start to this article I know, but let’s try and take a positive outlook for 2012. The club could badly do with a bit of optimism. After coming off a run of terrible results including an Old Firm defeat and losing top spot, there was anxiety at how the team would fare when the best of the rest in Motherwell came to visit Ibrox in the first fixture of the New Year. Things weren’t looking good when early in the match Kyle Lafferty pulled up with an injury and was substituted, leaving David Healy as the only striker on the park. However this turned into a blessing in disguise, as the team abandoned punting aimless long balls up field and actually played some impressive pass and move football, sweeping aside a lackluster Motherwell side 3-0 with an excellent team performance.

It was a confidence boosting result and Ally McCoist showed this was no time for messing about as he put out a strong side against Arbroath and the team eased into a 5th round tie at home against Dundee Utd. It was important to get back to winning ways, regardless of the quality of the opposition as too often Rangers have struggled against lesser teams this season. The winning trend continued of course as the Gers scraped past a formidable St Johnstone side at McDairmid Park, with Nikica Jelavic again proving how invaluable he is by netting a brace and ultimately securing the victory.

If the team can continue playing like this there is no reason why they cannot continue on this run of victories and put the pressure back on Celtic. However, consistency is the key to this.

That said, the nature of recent performances has been encouraging, with Lee Wallace and Sasa Papac developing a dangerous combination on the left wing and Allan McGregor proving again and again why he is easily the best keeper in the country. It’s also nice to see lifelong Gers fan David Healy getting a run in the team, a chance he hasn’t really had since joining the club. However, Sone Aluko deserves to be singled out for praise. He is a real creative spark for the team at the moment with Davis currently stuck in a rut. His enthusiasm to take on a man and beat him is refreshing, and he certainly gets the fan off of their seats. He was badly missed during his suspension and after making such a positive impact it is hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve a new two year contract.

The limitations of this positive aura around Rangers could of course be hampered by the club’s dealings in the transfer window. As usual, our prized assets have all been linked with moves away, but it is almost halfway through the month and so far the only concrete bid has been one for Mo Edu. Rightly or wrongly, many people would like to see this player leave the club, but the Rangers fans are united in support of the club’s plight to retain the services of the talisman Jelavic.

Undoubtedly he has the ability to play at a higher level, and deserves his chance to test his skills in a higher quality league, however it’s difficult to see the team winning the league without him. Hopefully the board realise what a negative message it would send out by selling him. The situation bears stark resemblance to the Kenny Miller fiasco this time last year. In that instance, McCoist’s men managed to do without the striker and go on to win the league, but given the threadbare nature of the attacking options available in reserve this time, it’d be a far more daunting task to repeat the process by allowing Jelavic to leave.

It would make more sense to keep him now, give Ally the best shot possible of winning the league, then let him go to Euro 2012 with Croatia and hopefully impress, adding a few million to his price tag before s  then looking to sell him. Sadly though, money talks, and a sizeable bid could see the Croat leave for pastures new before the end of the month, with little realistic hope of seeing any transfer fee received for Jelavic being reinvested into the team.

For the same reason, expect to see few arrivals this January, instead younger players like John Fleck and Kyle Hutton will be expected to step up and impress.

These obstacles alone would be trying enough for most modern day football clubs, but when you throw in the current HMRC tax case, the situation becomes all the more perilous.

It’s difficult to discuss this in any real detail, with cowboy blogger’s, continual whispers of administration and innuendo in the media the only real information to go on in the place of cold hard facts. To put it plain and simple, no one really knows what’s happening, how much the club could owe, and what outcome is likely to happen. It is an ongoing case, neither party will discuss the facts and so fans unfortunately are left to feed on scraps and half truths. It’s infuriating for supporters, given how serious a matter it is. I feel that all we can really do is sit back and wait for the judgement in the coming months. This is far from ideal, but there is nothing left to do but stay positive and focus on the team’s performance on the pitch, as has been standard for the past three or four years. This isn’t the “burying your head in the sand” attitude that plenty of Rangers fans have been accused of over this issue, I accept how serious the situation is, but with little real facts to go on what else can fans do other than get behind the team?

So, what to make of all this then? It’s hard to ignore the off field issues, transfer talk and general negativity surrounding the club, but we’ve been here before year after year and every time we have defied expectations and won the league. I’m trying to be as optimistic as possible for the year ahead for Rangers. If we can keep our best players at the club and maintain our recent league form then it will be a close title race. As for the bigger issues, all we can do is continue to support the team and deal with any further issues that may come our way.