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Welcome pressure for McCoist

THE simplicity of the situation is not lost on Ally McCoist.

Bilel Mohsni and Ally McCoist share a joke ahead of tomorrow's showdown at Easter Road. Picture: SNS
Bilel Mohsni and Ally McCoist share a joke ahead of tomorrow's showdown at Easter Road. Picture: SNS

"We need to win the cup." The Rangers story has become a multi-faceted one in recent years, but strip away all the layers and the basic premise has not changed. If Rangers are in a final - regardless of the competition or the opposition - then there is an expectation among the club's support that the day will conclude with red, white and blue ribbons on the trophy.

Tomorrow it is the Ramsdens Cup final and Raith Rovers will provide the opposition. For a club who played in the UEFA Cup final just six years ago, it is hardly the most prestigious bauble up for grabs but, regardless, the will to win has not diminished. If anything there is more pressure on McCoist and his players now to succeed than when they played Zenit St Petersburg in 2008, or in any of their many Scottish or League Cup final jousts with Celtic over the years.

Raith may be in the division above them, but there is little doubt that Rangers are favourites to triumph at Easter Road tomorrow. A squad assembled with the second-highest wage bill in the country has woefully underperformed in cup competitions in recent seasons but, having swept their way to this final, they will be expected to complete the job.

If, as they should, Rangers conclude their journey back to the top division in three quick steps this, barring a further insolvency event, will be their penultimate opportunity to win a trophy available only to those clubs in the lower divisions and a handful of non-league invitees. Just as with their procession to the old third division title and this season's SPFL League 1 championship, there will be no worldwide acclaim should Rangers add the Ramsdens Cup to their honours list, but that will not dilute their desire to make it happen.

"It would mean a lot for everybody at the club," said McCoist, typically earnest. "We have always said that we want to win every competition that we enter. This is no different. Last year was a disappointment. It did annoy us because we wanted to win it. This year is different. We have got ourselves to the final. We are favourites, but there is still uncertainty because nobody really knows how to gauge Rangers.

"I would accept that in a lot of people's eyes we are favourites with the Premier League players we have signed from last year. At the same time, we are effectively still playing a team from a league above us. But I do accept the majority of people would expect us to win it. The difference is it is a different Rangers team that is playing in this cup final. The Rangers teams that have played in cup finals before have always been on top of the Scottish game. This one is not, through no fault of the players. But we need to win the cup."

McCoist must feel that this was the right job for him at the wrong time. Becoming Rangers manager was the realisation of a lifelong ambition but his tenure has coincided with the most turbulent period in the club's history. Administration, liquidation, newco, Craig Whyte, Charles Green, Dave King - McCoist has been manager throughout it all. His weekly press conferences have rarely been about football matters. Voluntarily or otherwise, he has become embroiled in it all, diplomatically tiptoeing his way along the tightrope, trying to keep on side with supporters, directors, players, and every other act in this circus that never ends. It has rarely been easy. The pressure, then, of trying to win a cup final is very much welcomed indeed.

"This was all I had as a player and assistant manager," he said, almost nostalgically. "So it is good to get back to that level of pressure in football terms. I've been lucky to be involved in more cup finals than most. You tend to remember the ones you don't win more than the ones you do. It's great to get that feeling and that anticipation back again. That would indicate how seriously we are taking the competition. This is the pressure you want as a manager or player. If not an enjoyable pressure, it is a pressure you can accept, understand and appreciate. It's far better than the pressure of administration, liquidation and all that stuff."

McCoist, though, knows not to get too far ahead of himself. He was present at Ibrox when Raith Rovers beat Celtic to win the Coca-Cola cup almost 20 years ago.

"It will be a tough game," he added. "They're particularly good in a one-off tie, they can raise their game. All those factors suggest it will be a proper cup final."

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