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How good are McCoist's XI? And are they good enough?

THE pre-match chat concerns breaking a winning record but the constant subtext is how good are Rangers?

Lee McCulloch missed a penalty kick but Rangers still went on to record a 2-0 win over Falkirk
Lee McCulloch missed a penalty kick but Rangers still went on to record a 2-0 win over Falkirk

Any immediate collision with Celtic in the William Hill Scottish Cup was avoided yesterday but there is an intrigue over how Rangers would fare against one of the teams in the top division.

The Ibrox side will record a 19th consecutive win if they defeat Forfar Athletic tonight, a series of successes that stretches back to the match against Brechin City on August 10. Yet Ally McCoist's side is regularly assailed with the question of how good they are. The answer from some fans is: not good enough.

This is to be expected as the demands at Rangers are not just to win, but to vanquish opponents with an imperious ease. This truism is, of course, accepted by the manager and his captain, Lee McCulloch. "There's an expectation level which has to be dealt with. And even within that, if you are producing the goods, there will be an element of people who say, 'well' that's the way it should be anyway," said McCoist.

"That's fine, I'm not complaining. If you look at it the other way, it keeps you on your toes. Not for a minute are we likely to get carried away with anything. I've been here longer than most and probably know the club more than most, so I know what is expected. It's the fear of failure, the feat of defeat that keeps you going more than anything rather than a desire to win."

This reality has been accepted by McCulloch, who has been at Rangers since 2007 and was aware of criticism even as the side progressed to the UEFA Cup final in 2008. "I don't think that's ever going to change," he said of his reaction to criticism following the victory at Falkirk. "I've won Scottish Cups, League Cups and leagues on the last day of the season. Yet there's always someone with something to say. That's just the way it is at a big club. You're there to be shot at and you've got to have broad shoulders and take that on the chin."

So how good are Rangers, according to manager and captain? McCoist has already spoken about having no fear of playing any side in the SPFL Premiership. McCulloch was quietly bullish. "We have players who, on paper, you could easily argue would make us a good Premiership team," he said.

"I feel I am playing in a Premiership team at the moment with the quality I have around me. The way we have started this season, the stats would probably back me up in saying that. We've scored over 50 goals in the league, had 15 clean sheets and gone 18 wins in a row. All these stats indicate a Premiership-standard of team but we have to keep proving that."

The unspoken issue, of course, is to compare Rangers with the top teams in the SPFL Premiership, most specifically Celtic. "It's hard to say where we would be right now. I wouldn't say we'd win it but we'd definitely be up there with the quality we've got," said McCulloch.

Rangers have drawn either Dunfermline Athletic or Ayr in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup but McCulloch admitted: "We'd have taken anybody at home. People had asked about Celtic and Celtic players saying they can't wait to play us; some saying they want us now, some saying they want us in the final. You didn't get any Rangers players shouting about what they wanted. All we hoped for was a home game, it didn't matter."

The comparison was succinctly made. "I wouldn't say they're miles ahead of us. I'd say they're ahead of us because we're in League One and they're in the Champions League. That's the obvious one. Anything could happen in a one off game. You saw on the weekend how Albion Rovers could put out Motherwell."

There is the possibility, though, that if Rangers progress as expected to the Premiership in two years that McCulloch, now 35, might still be around to face Celtic in league action. His contract runs out next summer but McCoist likened his captain to David Weir, who played beyond the age of 40. First, though, McCulloch must lead out the team tonight in search of win 19. He may be joined by Dean Shiels who had a full game against Partick Thistle reserves last week.

The record is in sight but Rangers may have to wait a few months for their true mettle to be assessed.

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