THE minutes ticked past with Ally McCoist fencing away expertly.
For almost half an hour at Murray Park yesterday, he managed to come across as thoroughly unimpressed and dislocated from Craig Whyte, without actually saying anything too damning. There will be a time when McCoist will feel he has the freedom to let rip on the man who has brought disgrace on Rangers, but not yet. Not while – officially at least – they are manager and chairman. The relationship between those two positions ought to be the most important one at any club. McCoist and Whyte haven't spoken for days.
These are unprecedented times. McCoist fended away questions about whether Whyte would ever be back at Ibrox, about whether a guy like him should ever be allowed so much control, about whether the police had interviewed him about what his employer was up to. There have never been days like this in Rangers' history.
At one point, McCoist was asked if collective fans' ownership might be a way forward for Rangers, alluding to the idea of Paul Murray and/or Dave King assembling a consortium which would then raise money from a share issue. The answer required McCoist to speculate on Whyte being ousted and replaced and, carefully, he did so. "I am really open-minded on how our club moves forward. I certainly don't have a problem with the fans having a say, and a big say, I'm not against that at all. But I'd have to sit down and look at all their proposals and all their ideas."
He has known King for "a long, long time". Supporters should not read too much into the fact they were pictured leaving Ibrox together the other day, he said, but given that they drove off together it was reasonable to take that as a McCoist endorsement of any takeover move by King.
Men will leave before King or anyone else arrives, though. Chief operating officer Ali Russell and director of football Gordon Smith became the first casualties of administration when they accepted redundancy. McCoist denied having a strained relationship with Smith and insisted he was sorry that both men will be leaving. "We always had healthy, competitive discussions, " he said. "We weren't always in agreement with each other, but we all wanted what was best for the football club. I wasn't at odds with Gordon."
Smith had spoken of feeling undermined by Whyte. "I can sympathise with Gordon and his frustrations about not being able to carry out the job he was brought in to do," said McCoist. "There is genuine sadness at people losing their jobs. But I'd have to say Gordon and Ali have always had the club's interests at heart. They wanted to make the club a better club. Only they could tell you if they were allowed to do it, or if they were hindered in any shape or form."
If Whyte's director of football felt undermined, did the same apply to his manager? Did McCoist think Rangers made genuine attempts to sign the likes of David Goodwillie, Carlos Cuellar and umpteen others, or did Whyte only pay lip service? "There is only one man who can answer that, and that is him. Not getting a replacement in for Nikica [Jelavic] when we had Laff [Kyle Lafferty] out and [Steven] Naismith out: that, if anything, hit home that there was definitely something not right. When we weren't replacing people it became evident we had a very real problem."
Rangers could be forgiven for feeling that the remainder of the season is little more than a prolonged tour of shame, in which they will be exposed to the ridicule of rival supporters. McCoist was unperturbed about that (nor has he had time to worry about Celtic possibly winning the league title at Ibrox on March 25) and said he intended to enjoy today's trip north, and an overnight stay in Inverness, before tomorrow's match at Caledonian Thistle. "It's only Inverness, but we are looking forward to getting away. It's not Spain or America we're going to, it's Inverness. But it's the fact that we can all jump in a bus, get to a hotel and spend a bit of time together. That's going to be a good thing."
Failing to submit audited accounts to the SFA before March 31 – as seems inevitable – will prevent Rangers playing in Europe next season, but the league runners-up receive £2.4m and third place earns £1.5m, so McCoist's team is playing for £900,000 at a time when every pound is precious. Motherwell would go level on points with Rangers if they were to win at Celtic Park today, although Rangers would have a vastly superior goal difference and a game in hand.
"There's absolutely no doubt it's a battle [for second place]," said McCoist. "Motherwell will have a wee sniff and will be looking across at us and thinking they have a real chance. Knowing the Motherwell team and their manager [Stuart McCall] as well as I do, that will be the case. We have a challenge."
It was left unsaid that finishing first is beyond them. For Rangers to be 20 points behind in February might be grounds for a sacking in any normal season. But normality, like Whyte, is absent at Rangers now.