x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Two games, three hours, one crisis

Controversy surrounds Ally McCoist, the Glasgow Rangers manager, even as the Scottish Premier League side are under pressure to make the group stages of the European Champions League football competition, failing which they could lose close to Dh60 million.

Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager, is already under pressure after a draw with Hearts on the opening day and a loss to Malmo, of Sweden, in the first-leg of a Champions League match.
Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager, is already under pressure after a draw with Hearts on the opening day and a loss to Malmo, of Sweden, in the first-leg of a Champions League match.

The hope was that the new Scottish Premier League season would start last week with a bang. Instead, it started with a ban.

A ball had not even been kicked in anger when Ally McCoist, the Glasgow Rangers manager, had the BBC thrown out of the club's Murray Park training complex before his normal Friday news conference.

McCoist was angry because the BBC edited an interview with him that made it look as if he was laughing at the thorny subject of the violence which surrounds games against city rivals Celtic, when, in fact, his reaction had been to something completely different.

The BBC apologised, eventually, and acknowledged being in the wrong. This was the only piece of good news for the new Rangers boss over a trying few days.

Scottish football last season was dominated by off-the-field headlines. But this spat was never going to be the biggest talking point among Rangers fans who, after three hours of football, are showing signs of panic.

A draw in the opening game with Hearts was disappointing, but not the end of the world. But then a 1-0 home defeat to Malmo in Tuesday's Champions League qualifier was a shocker.

If Rangers fail to make the group stages, which would be the case if they do not win the second-leg in Sweden, then, at a conservative estimate, that's £10 million (Dh59.8m) gone.

McCoist is a Rangers legend having scored 355 goals for the club, but if they drop more points at St Johnstone today then even this hero will be under severe pressure. But as his old captain Richard Gough once said: "At Rangers, you are not as good as your last game. You are as good as your last pass."

McCoist is trying to sell Madjid Bougherra to the Qatari club Lekhwiya in an effort to help finance the transfers of Wesley Verhoek, a winger from the Dutch club Den Haag, and David Goodwillie, Dundee United's impressive striker.

But Peter Houston, the Dundee United manager, said Goodwillie has indicated to him that his preference is a move to England.

The striker is understood to have attracted interest from up to 10 clubs, including two bids from Rangers.

"I think he would be better served going down to England or abroad and proving himself, and I believe he wants to do that as well," Houston said.

Of course, a win at St Johnstone would change one or two things for Rangers, and the Scottish champions are good enough to overcome the first-leg defeat by Malmo to progress to the next qualifying round, although this would be the first time any Rangers team have achieved this.

But McCoist knows this is a big test for him so early in his management career.

"The worrying thing about the past two games is how slowly we have started them," he said. "We have also lost really bad goals and that's what we've worked on this week in training.

"The good thing for us is that we now have St Johnstone and the chance to get our first win on the board, then we go to Sweden and I genuinely believe we can still get through."

McCoist will be facing St Johnstone without his captain, David Weir, who suffered a hamstring injury against Malmo. However, new signing Dorin Goian has been given the greenlight to play. The Romanian international completed his move from Palermo earlier this week and has been granted the necessary paperwork.

Celtic are not in league action this weekend as they are taking part in a friendly tournament in Dublin, arranged before the Scottish Premier League fixture list came out.

Neil Lennon, the manager, was delighted with his team's convincing 2-0 win over Hibernian and will be happy his main rivals have a tricky away match before the European game, while his men get the chance to stretch their legs further without worrying too much about the score.

New boys Dunfermline Athletic are the team who were supposed to face Celtic and will feel aggrieved they could not at least try to build on their draw with St Mirren, who today entertain Aberdeen.

Jim Jefferies, the Hearts manager, played down his side's draw at Ibrox, but was full of praise for his players who fought out a 1-1 draw against Paksi in Hungary in Thursday's Europa League qualifier.

The Edinburgh side face Dundee United at home tomorrow and Jefferies said: "We have the makings of a very good team. If we can keep everyone fit, then it will be interesting to see where it takes us.

"The players have improved a lot since last season. We did OK at Ibrox and deserved a point, but Rangers had plenty of chances in the second half, which shouldn't be forgotten.

"We still have a lot of work to do next week in the second leg, however, if we could go on a European run, which this club hasn't done for a while, then we could build our season upon that."

Motherwell sit top of the league after their 3-0 hammering of Inverness, who take on Hibs in the Highlands this afternoon.

Stuart McCall, the Motherwell manager, said: "We have ambitions to challenge for a European place this season.

"I don't need to sell my best players, so that gives us a platform to work on.

"I find it sometimes sad, it doesn't always happen, but some players leave the SPL to go down to England and sit on the bench. The boys are developing and it's a good place to play football.

"Obviously if a big bid comes along the club would have to look at it but speaking myself, I don't want to encourage anything.

"We want to move forward, not backwards."

If only his old Rangers and Scotland teammate McCoist had such confidence right now.