Ally has to finish 'The Journey' in style to finally silence his critics

IT has always been about the winning at Rangers.

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Ally McCoist must find the flair to escape the flak over his Rangers team this season
Ally McCoist must find the flair to escape the flak over his Rangers team this season

Success and silverware are in the fabric of the club and failure will not be tolerated or accepted.

For the past two seasons points and medals were all but guaranteed before a ball was kicked, with the opposition in Scotland's bottom two tiers never in danger of causing the Ibrox giants angst beyond any single 90 minutes of action.

The Third Division and League One titles are far from the most prized accolades on the club's illustrious honour roll, but their importance has never been understated by Ally McCoist, the manager who delivered them in the midst of off-field problems the likes of which none of his predecessors ever had to endure.

This season, however, will be different. Triumphs, both on a weekly basis and come the end of the season, can no longer be taken for granted.

In six days McCoist will start his fourth campaign in the Ibrox hot seat and it seems sure to be the most important of a rollercoaster tenure.

The club's record goalscorer has never had his problems to seek since replacing Walter Smith as manager. The actions of a host of characters who made their way up the famous marble staircase placed him in an unenviable position.

He has deserved the dose of sympathy extended to him from the supporters who chant his name, but that will not last long once the action resumes for real.

Too often in recent years the standards expected at Ibrox, both on and off the field, have not been met. For the sake of both the manager and the club, improvements must be made across the board.

As McCoist reflected last week on the Light Blues' tour of North America, he admitted that this summer has been the first time he has felt like a manager, free from the stresses and strains of financial turmoil and boardroom battles.

The picture is still far from perfect at Ibrox, but the 51-year-old boss has been able to get back down to business.

The Petrofac Training Cup clash at home to Hibernian next Tuesday night will be the first hurdle Rangers have to overcome this season.

However, McCoist will know there can be no early slip-ups from a side that has again been bolstered with top-flight talent this summer.

THE aftermath of his team's last fixture in the same competition - a final loss to Raith Rovers in April - led to McCoist's position being questioned like never before by frustrated Rangers fans.

It was the latest addition to a charge sheet that also contains disappointing results against the likes of Stirling Albion, Annan, Forfar and Stranraer in the last two seasons.

The calls for manager to be sacked following that dismal display against Raith were premature and never likely to be followed through by the much-criticised Ibrox board.

McCoist faced the music and stated that it was not the time for him to go, before admitting he will know himself when the writing is on the wall.

It is a scenario that should not unfold this season, though.

With arguably the second-strongest squad in Scottish football at his disposal, there will be no excuses for McCoist as he looks to claim a third title in succession and return the club to what they believe is their rightful place in the country's top division.

The arrivals of strikers Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller in particular have put Rangers in pole position for the league title and dampened some of the flak aimed at McCoist for a signing policy that had failed to impress many fans.

His team's task will be made much harder, of course, by the presence of Edinburgh clubs Hearts and Hibs, two former top-flight foes embarking on their own roads to recovery after seasons to forget.

The presence of play-offs will give at least one of the big three a second shot at promotion, but that is a route the Light Blue legions won't accept as they set their sights on the Championship title.

Despite easing to successive league flags - with 33 wins and only three draws in 36 games last term - McCoist and his players have had criticism ringing in their ears rather than receiving pats on the back from their followers.

The winning was welcomed, but at times the style in which success was achieved left a lot to be desired.

Finishing first will always outrank playing an easy-on-the-eye style of football, but Rangers fans now demand a level of entertainment with their victories. The manner in which they have claimed their last two titles was impressive, on paper at least, but McCoist is likely to come under fire again if performance levels are not deemed to have reached an acceptable level.

He'll also be under pressure to improve on his poor run of results in cup competitions.

There are few men that the Light Blues legions hold in higher esteem as a Ranger than McCoist, but plenty are sceptical that the legendary player has what it takes to be a successful manager in the top flight of Scotland and the European arena. There is no better time than the present for McCoist to prove them wrong.

After three years of turmoil Rangers are likely to complete "The Journey" this term and McCoist will be determined to prove he has not reached the end of the road at Ibrox.

This season will be one of huge significance on and off the field for Rangers. It will be a massive one for McCoist too.

Football

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