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Home help is not the key

THE bad news is that there is still another 21 days of all this to go.

Jon Daly drew first blood when Dundee United beat Rangers in the Scottish Cup last season
Jon Daly drew first blood when Dundee United beat Rangers in the Scottish Cup last season

Rangers travel to Angus this afternoon to take on Brechin City in an SPFL League 1 encounter but even at a distance of three weeks, mundane fixtures like these have already been eclipsed by the pre-amble to the club's controversial William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final with Dundee United on April 12.

The Ibrox club are essentially little more than interested bystanders in the furore between United chairman Stephen Thompson and the SFA about whether the tie should be switched to a neutral venue, and whether United were entitled to a 50/50 split of tickets which they would surely be unlikely to sell, although they were quick to downplay fears that Thompson and his fellow Tannadice office bearers would not be safe to take a seat in the directors' box.

As singular as the matrix of factors around this particular fixture are, it is worth noting that not only have the two sides met in three of the last four seasons, with United winning all three, even McCoist has in fact featured, and prospered, in a Scottish Cup semi-final on what might be termed enemy soil. When Hampden Park was being renovated, he scored as Rangers overcame Celtic 2-1 at Parkhead in the last four in 1998, even if they did lose the final at the same ground to Hearts.

"With the greatest respect, that Rangers team, we genuinely would have played anybody anywhere - we had so much belief," McCoist said. "It was a pretty successful group that didn't really fear a lot. The venue wouldn't have mattered that much to us. Obviously it was the toughest venue we could have been sent to. But, it didn't scare or faze us and we went there and enjoyed it, and got a very good result."

Both teams can be expected to be significantly more fragile than that side in three weeks' time, with personnel on either side already markedly different from those who fought out a deceptively simple 3-0 United win at Tannadice in last year's competition - a match, of course, which was boycotted by many Rangers fans.

That was Jackie McNamara's debut as United manager, and since then the likes of Andrew Robertson, Ryan Gauld and Nadir Ciftci have all complemented existing talents such as Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong.

On the other hand, Johnny Russell - who scored a double on the day - now plays for Derby County, Willo Flood is a League Cupup winner at Aberdeen, and Jon Daly, who scored one and saw a head flick set up Russell for the opener within just 12 seconds, is part of McCoist's own squad. Neither are Emilson Cribari and Ross Perry Rangers' first-choice centre halves.

"Jon Daly was a player who was always on the radar, someone I'd always admired," McCoist said. "But that game was unbelievable. We spent two days working on their diagonal ball to big Jon, honest to God. And we still lost a goal after 12 seconds.

"It just shows you how your plans can get thrown up in the air. He bullied us that day, he really did. He was excellent. Johnny Russell, too, played very well. We were well beaten. We had two sendings off [Ian Black and Kal Naismith], but that had nothing to do with the result. We were beaten by the better team."

Most shocking of all that day on Tayside, however, was the way in which seasoned performers such as David Templeton, Dean Shiels and Ian Black appeared laboured compared to their top-flight counterparts, apparently the natural consequence of playing three divisions below. McCoist will utilise the three-week build-up for exhaustive video analysis, but otherwise he hopes his players will find the sharpness when required.

"Just due to the circumstances of the game ... the pressure of it, the fact it's a semi-final, we're playing far better opposition than we have done, I would genuinely hope our players will raise the bar again," he said.

Those who will be determined to show they suffer from no inferiority complex will be the club's young players such as Fraser Aird, the scorer of the all-important opener in the 2-0 replay win at Albion Rovers last Monday. Not only does Aird crave the chance to finish the season with a blemish-free league record - "I think we are the only undefeated team in Britain right now I don't think a Rangers team in ages have gone unbeaten the whole season and it doesn't matter what division it is" - he has occasionally shared the same Scotland Under-19 dressing-room as United's Ryan Gauld and John Souttar, even if both have now ascended to the Under-21s.

"They just get on with their own lives and I do too," said Aird. "But I am sure we will have some words when we see each other at Ibrox."

In this season's Champions League eight last-16 ties, six of the first legs ended in away wins, evidence that home advantage can be over-rated.

"I don't think home advantage matters as much now as it used to," McCoist said. "Certainly, a top team like Liverpool are fantastically suited to go away from home and get results, the way they play the game. So, I don't think home ­advantage matters as much as it used to in football. That said, I'm delighted the game's at Ibrox. I'll take it."

Exactly how much of an advantage it is remains to be seen. But it is an advantage. And Rangers need to make the most of it.

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