It won’t be the end of the world if they fail to overcome Maribor in the Europa League play-off tonight, but that’s pretty much what it would feel like for a few days around Ibrox.
Being out of Europe in August would disfigure McCoist’s first campaign and ignite a storm of criticism towards him, his team and owner Craig Whyte. Malmo and Maribor are not the sort of clubs Rangers supporters tolerate defeat against.
A 1-0 victory would be enough in Govan tonight and Rangers certainly have that within them on the evidence of a first leg which they ought to have won but lost 2-1.
A more disciplined, consistent performance should be enough against the Slovenians although McCoist has umpteen selection headaches.
Carlos Bocanegra is available and Lee McCulloch, Maurice Edu and Kirk Broadfoot all trained yesterday but the list of absentees, through injury, suspension or illness, is ominous: Steven Naismith and Steven Whittaker are banned, Kyle Bartley, Davie Weir, Jamie Ness and Kane Hemmings are injured and Sasa Papac is ill.
“We’d be far happier sitting with a better result from the first leg which we probably could and should have had,” said McCoist. “But it’s gone now. Confidence will be a big thing for us and we’ve just come off a very good performance and result against Motherwell. Hopefully, we can step on from that and I don’t see any reason why we can’t.”
The loss of Naismith is a blow given that the Scotland midfielder has been one of Rangers’ most influential players so far along with Nikica Jelavic and Steven Davis. The disruption of that triumvirate will unsettle Rangers’ rhythm although McCoist will draw encouragement from Kyle Lafferty’s goal at Motherwell on Sunday. McCoist likes Lafferty and his return from injury is timely given that at least one goal will be required.
It was put to McCoist that the whole mood around the club would be dictated by the outcome of this match.
If Rangers are in tomorrow’s Europa League group stage he will have delivered his first success. That would generate around £3.5m/£4m from Uefa monies and gate receipts, and it would create a sense of momentum for McCoist.
If they are eliminated, Rangers would be looking at a nuclear winter.
“This team has been knocked out of Europe before and the walls haven’t come in,” said McCoist. “But I’m not thinking about not qualifying. I’m thinking about qualifying . . . and maybe the walls will remain intact and we’ll all be happy.
“We’ve had tough times in Europe before and we’ve had great times in Europe before, but the one thing the fans will expect -- and we will expect -- is a performance that gives us an opportunity to qualify. We have to go out and do that.”
Rangers made bids for Tomer Hemed, Kenny Miller and David Goodwillie over the close season and signed none of them. No new striker has arrived and McCoist can’t be sure of getting any money to go for one now unless there is Europa League group income coming in.
“Time will tell,” he said. “It’s no secret that it would be far more beneficial for us to qualify than not to. With us not having the Champions League money, this is an opportunity for the players to earn the club as much money as we now can. In that respect the game is vitally important.
“We want to play in Europe. If it’s not the Champions League then we want to play in the next best thing and that’s the Europa League. It was only three years ago we were in the final of the UEFA Cup and we know how much everyone enjoyed that.
“I’m not saying for one minute we can go to the final, but it tells you how important European football is. If we can’t get the top competition, which is obviously the Champions League, we need to do everything we can to get in the next one.”
Let’s just say McCoist “had words” with his players after their second-half collapse in Maribor, which allowed the home side to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win.
Had he and his assistant Kenny McDowall torn a strip off them? “No, not at all. I think they probably agreed with the vast majority of what we said. The majority of the boys in the dressing room have known us for years.
“Sometimes with members of your family you say things you feel should be said but that doesn’t mean you don’t think the world of them or you wouldn’t do anything for them. Sometimes you have to say one or two things. But the most important thing is that the family remains a unit and then you get on with it again and we’ve got boys like that. It’s not a problem and there was no massive inquest. headingWe basically all agreed that the second-half performance wasn’t up to scratch.”
Carlos Bocanegra agreed with his manager: they had let a precious away win slip through their fingers. “We could make up a lot of excuses but the biggest thing is that we need to be better at killing off the game and being more clever with the ball in the second half. If we have a 1-0 lead away from home in the first leg, we need to do a better job of managing the game. Everyone was a bit disappointed about that.”
Bocanegra came across as a laid-back dude, not a man likely to be fazed by tension tonight. He once played in front of a 100,000 crowd for the USA against Mexico in Los Angeles when only 5000 of the fans were supporting the Americans. Good or bad, he won’t have any trouble hearing the home fans tonight.