When he whispered into Neil Lennon's ear at full-time back in March, and a seemingly pleasant little exchange instantly turned ugly, everyone was desperate to find out what he'd said to provoke the Celtic manager. Something along the lines of "don't ever talk about our players again" was the consensus during the fall-out from the Scottish Cup "shame game". For the first time since that night of three Rangers red cards, the touchline spat, and First Minister Alex Salmond's version of a Camp David summit, McCoist will do another working shift in the east end.
And for the first time he will step off the Rangers coach as manager, which meant his words at Murray Park yesterday had the potential to be as significant as they were when, as assistant, he wound up Lennon eight months ago. There was no provocation or edge to McCoist as he discussed the season's second Old Firm game, but he did come out with a phrase which raised some eyebrows.
"I think we will win on Wednesday night," he said. Not 'can' or 'might', but 'will'. That was unusually emphatic, especially from the manager of a team in deteriorating form and about to visit the home of a side who have won their last eight league games.
"I believe we can win the game, of course I believe we can win the game," McCoist continued. But hold on, he had said 'will' the first time. Was that what he meant to say? "I do believe we will win the game, absolutely. I think we have the players in the dressing room to win. It's as simple as that. I have great belief in the boys here. Make no mistake about it, Celtic Park is a tough place to go, a very tough place to go. But we can, and I can see us winning the game. I would not be doing my job if I was sitting here being anything other than very positive and indeed confident."
Rangers are available at 100/30 to win tonight. That is an inviting price given that there is clearly very little between two sides separated by only a point after 20 rounds of matches. Celtic have form on their side and Old Firm fixtures are true to form far more often than the cliche suggests. Even so, it does not stretch the imagination to see a Rangers midfield of, say, Kyle Lafferty, Maurice Edu, Steven Davis, Lee McCulloch and Lee Wallace choking the match and having the better of the central exchanges. They have done it before. That could easily provide the platform for a draw – which would suit Rangers perfectly well – or even an away win. Lafferty and Nikica Jelavic already have an Old Firm goal each this season.
The outcome will reveal nothing conclusive about the destination of the league title but it will say much about where Rangers stand right now. Has their recent decline become irreversible, leading to a switch in the balance of power to Celtic, or do they still have it in them to produce the sort of rousing performance which sees them through again?
They've seen a 15-point lead crumble to just one, which feels good for Celtic this morning but won't count for much if it still stands at one on the evening of May 13. "I certainly wouldn't call it a crisis," said McCoist. "I've been through a lot of times which were certainly a lot worse than they are now, times when we weren't sitting at the top of the league. So I would be dead against calling it a crisis, to be quite honest.
"I was very, very loath to comment when we were so many points ahead and people were saying this, that and the next thing. Celtic are now on a consistent run of form whereas earlier on in the season that run wasn't there for them. We've had the opposite. There's nothing more to it than that, I feel." Rangers' decline coincides with the long-term absence of Steven Naismith, of course. "I feel a bit sorry to keep bringing the lad's name up because all he wants to do is get fit for hopefully the start of next season. All we can say is that any team in the country, and I mean the UK, would miss Naismith."
Rangers lack creativity and if they prevail tonight it will be through height, power and physicality. They have conceded at least one goal in six of their last eight matches, which isn't a characteristic of a side expected to turn up at Parkhead to "shut up shop", but it's difficult to see things being as open as they were when half-a-dozen goals were scored in the September derby, with Rangers claiming four of them.
Gales of 70-80mph will be a factor. That won't help the players although it will be welcomed by the police, who regard bad weather as a calming influence on supporters in the stadium and around the country who otherwise could be wound up after an afternoon of holiday drinking. "The vast, vast majority of fans behave in the correct manner and the fact that we've been talking about his game for the last five or six weeks would indicate that, whether we're masochistic or not, we're all looking forward to it," said McCoist.
"It's a fixture with a wonderful history. I'm sure I can speak for Neil as well and say he'll be looking forward to it. We just hope it's a great game and that everybody behaves themselves. That's what happens at the vast majority of these fixtures. I don't have any doubt that this one will be the same.
"That night in March was a storm in a teacup, let's be honest about it. It was nothing. But it's a brilliant fixture. It grabs the nation. All over the country – all over the UK, all over the world – they'll be watching the game.
"There are not a lot of things that come out of Glasgow or Scotland that grab the attention of the world, so let's be proud of it."