By conventional measures, Ally McCoist is succeeding at Ibrox.
His team is unbeaten in SPFL League 1, having won all but one of their 22 matches, scoring 74 goals and conceding only 10. The only aberration this season was losing to Forfar Athletic in the first round of the Scottish League Cup, after extra time. Yet there has recently been criticism of the Rangers manager, of his methods and his approach, so how should he be assessed?
Loading article content
In truth, McCoist is doing exactly what Rangers need him to do, which is steer the club through the lower leagues with a steady hand and an understanding of the particular demands that come with performing at Ibrox. By his own admission, some of last season's performances and results were unacceptable, and the memories are fresh enough to influence the thinking of some supporters during this campaign. At times, Rangers have not managed to sweep opponents aside, which has drawn complaint in the stands.
On those days, the football tends to be pedestrian, lacking the tempo or flair to quicken the pulse. The Ibrox side has far greater resources than the other teams in League 1, with all but Dunfermline Athletic being part-time. None the less, a draw with Stranraer apart, Rangers have met their aims, which is to win games and earn promotion as quickly as possible.
Style matters, of course, and displays lacking the kind of technical aplomb or gracefulness that is kinder on the eye will prompt grumbling, but if there has been an overriding influence on Rangers' performances, it has been pragmatism. Some previous Rangers managers have found that idealism cuts them little slack with supporters who demand that their side defeats every team it faces. McCoist understands all too well that gripes over the manner of performances are nothing compared to the derision that follows a Rangers defeat. But he demands better of his players; style matters to McCoist, too.
Opponents in League 1 tend to sit deep and pack the midfield and defence, certainly at Ibrox, and so Rangers have to find their way through some grimly determined organisation. In the end, they have tended to find the means to win.
Complexities abound and everything at the Ibrox club in these years of shifting ownership regimes and imperatives, is political. Even so, the majority of fans, given his service to the club and status in its history, want McCoist to succeed. Some can still remember how the managerial reign of John Greig - a figure of similar stature to McCoist - did not match the feats of his playing days and ended abruptly, a painful scenario that still lingers in their observations of McCoist. They do not want to watch history repeating itself, yet as a consequence become more sensitive to the possibility of that happening.
Others craved a fresh start, a sudden turn to youth development and an overarching philosophy. McCoist, though, has yet to manage in normal circumstances. From Rangers Football Club plc falling into administration under Craig Whyte, to the registration embargo, signing players has been restricted. This ought to have been the first transfer window in which he could operate freely, only for the financial situation to necessitate cuts.
Some believe McCoist ought to share some of the blame for that, too, but the spending was sanctioned by Charles Green then his successor as chief executive, Craig Mather. Rangers cannot relive the past two years, so Graham Wallace has to deal with the circumstances he inherited, which might yet cause players to leave in this last week of the window.
If McCoist is to be judged, then it ought to be when he has been able to build a team without restriction, other than available budget, and on how that team performs in the top flight. He held the club together at times during administration and is acutely aware of his status among the supporters, but his role right now is to take charge of the team and shape how the football department approaches the coming months and their challenges.
It has not been McCoist's decision, for instance, for Rangers to fail to replace the chief scout Neil Murray, who was a victim of Green's regime. Young players have been bedded into the first team, most notably Lewis Macleod and Fraser Aird, but the reality of last season was that the teenagers needed more time-served players around them in the squad.
The best will continue to contribute as Rangers climb the leagues, but plenty of promising young talents have found Ibrox an unforgiving environment. Charlie Adam and Alan Hutton, for instance, could attest to that and thriving in a demanding atmosphere is what sets Old Firm players apart. Having experienced colleagues helps.
If Celtic are to eventually be challenged, though, the team will need strengthened significantly. But that does not mean the work undertaken now is less worthy.
Rangers needed to deal with the circumstances they faced. It has not been flawless and the performances ought to more regularly reflect the gulf in resources with their opponents, but the team is doing its job. McCoist is doing the same.