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Rangers still a work in progress

Ally McCoist was blunt enough on Boxing Day for none of his players to be unsure of their obligations.

Ally McCoist was irked by his side's draw with Stranraer. Picture: SNS
Ally McCoist was irked by his side's draw with Stranraer. Picture: SNS

The Rangers fans made the same assessment, too, since they booed the team off following a 1-1 draw with Stranraer at Ibrox. There have been worse results in this period of turmoil for the club, but perspective is seldom the first reaction to a disappointing performance.

The draw might have been viewed less harshly if it had not been a fair reflection of the game. It ended, too, Rangers' 100% record, which had run for 15 league games, and for 20 consecutive games in all competitions. McCoist dismissed the significance of the statistics and he was always more likely to dwell on the display itself. His team had been showing signs of developing a hardened winning habit, that ability to be able to force a victory out of any circumstances, but on this occasion the flaws of the performance could not be overcome.

Rangers remain caught between aspirations. The starting XI is strong enough to be expected to dominate any side they encounter in SPFL League 1, and that has mostly been the case. Yet it is a team still taking shape, not least because there is an element of compromise about it.

The midfield has tended to be Arnold Peralta, Ian Black, Nicky Law and Lewis Macleod, four central midfielders in a line, but Fraser Aird is the only one of the squad's natural wide players to impress - intermittently - this season. David Templeton has lacked form, while Andy Little has yet to convince either as a wide player or a central striker.

McCoist is still in the midst of building a coherent team. That task might become more challenging when Graham Wallace, the chief executive, begins the necessary cost-cutting, but the intention is to develop a strategy that allows Rangers to field a strong team in the Championship next season and, as the ambition at Ibrox holds, the Premiership the year after. It has been another difficult year for McCoist, but crisis-management has almost been the requirement throughout his time in charge of the team.

"We have obviously had some lows [in 2013] - some of the results here towards the end of last season and the cup results," he said. "Certainly, though, the highs would be winning the league. Coming back down on the team bus from Montrose when we won the league was brilliant. The last game at home to Berwick last season was also great because the supporters were unbelievable that day. Those were the highs, but you would always expect one or two lows along the way as well."

He is seeking a certain mentality among his players, as well as ability. The 1-1 draw with Stranraer was frustrating for the manager because the team did not perform well, and individuals were also lax. Setbacks can happen, but in the pursuit of the kind of achievement that Rangers fans expect, they cannot be regular occurrences. It is a trip to Dunfermline on Monday night that presents the opportunity for the players to show they understand, and can cope with, the demands that come with being at Rangers. The manager, for one, will be looking for an immediate response.

"We are coming off the back of a really disappointing performance," McCoist said. "We are looking to win the game on Monday, but also for a far better performance up at Dunfermline. Anyone who was at our last game [against Jim Jefferies' side] would know they were certainly up for the game. Three of our players ended up in hospital. That's not to say they were anything other than up for the game, of course. I would imagine Dunfermline will be the same at their own ground on Monday and I'll make sure [Rangers' players] are ready for the challenge.

"It's great in one way because it's an opportunity for us to bounce back from a disappointing performance against Stranraer almost straight away. It's four days between the game and, from a players point of view, you just want to get the next game on as soon as possible. I know that myself from being in dressing rooms many times after disappointing results. It is also the final game of the year, so it would be great to go out on a high."

McCoist has Little and Richard Foster back from injury and the starting line-up might benefit from some fresh faces. There was a lack of tempo and urgency to Rangers' play against Stranraer, but Dunfermline will also prove strong and robust opponents. It ought to be the most difficult league fixture of the season, a trip to East End Park where the players are still full-time, and the Ibrox side will need to rise to the occasion.

It is the last game of a year of achievement on the pitch and turmoil off it. The re-election of the directors at the shareholders' annual meeting nine days ago has brought some calm to the political drama at Rangers, so it is up to the team now to maintain its progress.

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