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Hampden in March a possibility for Rangers not a probability, says McCoist

THE Scottish Football Association's zero tolerance policy on gambling within the game means Ally McCoist couldn't have a punt on his team winning the League Cup even if he wanted to.

The Rangers manager, however, was still sufficiently aware of bookmakers and their way of thinking to accurately guess that his side isn't among the immediate favourites to lift the trophy this season.

The Ibrox side belatedly get their involvement in the competition under way on Tuesday when they take on Queen's Park at neutral Airdrie, the tie originally postponed from late July due to restrictions during the Commonwealth Games.

Rangers' first two seasons in the lower leagues brought little but misery in the cups. The League Cup has been particularly cruel, a home victory over Motherwell two years ago proving to be something of a false dawn with Inverness Caledonian Thistle winning 3-0 at Ibrox in the subsequent round. Last year's foray was even shorter, Rangers dumped out ingloriously by Forfar Athletic at the first hurdle.

If those losses could be categorised respectively as a gulf in class and then an off-day, then there can be no such excuses this time. McCoist has been given leeway to construct a squad that, both in numbers and combined wage bill, dwarves almost every other club in the country. Another premature exit would be difficult for McCoist to explain away, even if some bookies rate his team only fifth favourites to lift the trophy at Hampden next March.

"It's on our horizon the way it's on every team in the top flight's horizon," he said. "I think we've as good a chance as teams like Dundee United, Aberdeen and St Johnstone, even Hibs and Hearts [from the Championship]. I wouldn't say we were any greater favourites to win a cup than a few other teams.

"If you went to the bookies there would probably be a few teams ahead of us, Celtic being the obvious one. But I'd include ourselves among teams you'd hope would have a good cup run and anything can happen - look at St Johnstone last year, deserved winners of the Scottish Cup. That's where we have to set our targets. We'd need a little bit of luck.

"We reached the semi-final of the Scottish Cup last season and that's where we want to be - playing big games, being back at Hampden. The league's the one we want but we enter every tournament picking sides that we believe can win games for us."

The current gap between Celtic and Rangers will be vividly illustrated on Tuesday night. While Rangers are occupying themselves with trying to set up a League Cup second-round tie against Inverness, around 10 miles away Celtic will be looking to book a place in the group stage of the Champions League for the third consecutive season. McCoist is philosophical about it all.

"I don't yearn for it too much actually as it's not feasible at the moment," he said. "I'm like everyone else in that I watch the Champions League on the television and once we get back into the top flight and when we're competing again that's the ultimate target. There's no point wishing for it right now when it's an impossibility. When it's a possibility that's the target we have to set ourselves."

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