Cup final defeat is proof Rangers must strengthen squad

RANGERS have suffered their fair share of agonising moments, both on and off the field, in the last few years of their existence.

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Rangers boss Ally McCoist looks lost for words as he watched his side lose 1-0 in extra-time to Raith Rovers
Rangers boss Ally McCoist looks lost for words as he watched his side lose 1-0 in extra-time to Raith Rovers

And on each occasion they have, no matter how difficult it has been, dusted themselves down, regrouped and ploughed on.

That is undoubtedly what they will do in the wake of the excruciatingly painful extra-time defeat to Raith Rovers in the Ramsdens Cup final.

They have, after all, the not-so-small matter of the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United to play in at Ibrox this Saturday.

Beating top-flight opponents in the national knockout cup competition is the perfect opportunity for Ally McCoist's men to atone for this hugely embarrassing defeat.

Yet, at the same time, the 1-0 loss to the Stark's Park club at Easter Road raises several serious questions that should not be ignored by the Ibrox hierarchy.

A Rangers team, patched together with half-fit players, struggled to break down and score against a side they will play against in the SPFL Championship next season.

So how will this squad fare in the second tier in the 2014/15 campaign if, as looks likely, there is no investment in new players during the summer?

Those who currently occupy the boardroom at Ibrox must realise that without funds being made available there is no guarantee of a third successive promotion.

There will also once again be intense scrutiny as to whether McCoist is the right man to lead the Light Blues back to the summit of Scottish football.

It seems harsh given that this was only the second time his side has lost since way back in July and was the first time all term they have failed to score.

But the demands of one of the two highest-profile positions in club football in this country are great, and he understands such speculation goes with the territory. He will, given the impressive way his team romped to the SPFL League One without losing a single game this season, be allowed to continue in his role.

BUT this reverse did nothing to convince the doubters - of whom there are, despite all the difficulties McCoist has had to endure, many - that he is the right man for the job.

The spotlight will, rightly or wrongly, fall on a few of the players who, for all their domination, failed to overcome a side they were rightly expected to beat comfortably.

McCoist, as his predecessor as Rangers manager and mentor as a coach was wont to do in major games, sprung a major surprise with his team selection before kick-off.

Ian Black, Jon Daly and Nicky Law, who had been toiling with minor ailments last week, were all passed fit to play and took their place in the starting line-up.

However, the set-up of the team was unusual. Daly played, as ever, as a lone striker. But Law was picked to play just off him instead of both Nicky Clark and Dean Shiels.

Black formed the central midfield partnership with Kyle Hutton. Fraser Aird was, as usual, on the right flank, but Stevie Smith was brought in on the left side.

It was a surprise as Smith has not featured as a starter in several weeks. But, upon reflection, it was easy to see the logic behind McCoist's thinking.

The left-back is dependable defensively and, having been at Rangers when they challenged for Scottish football's top honours, is experienced on major occasions in front of large crowds.

Smith had one of the best chances of the opening 45 minutes. His curling free-kick shortly before half-time forced a fine fingertip save from Raith goalkeeper Lee Robinson.

The shotstopper had earlier palmed clear a Black volley from the edge of his area. That apart, the former Rangers kid had precious little to do in the first half.

RAITH, though, offered virtually nothing going forward themselves. They showed themselves to be a decidedly limited side.

Cammy Bell did well to stay alert. Rangers were dealt a blow when Lee Wallace limped off injured early on in the second half. Richard Foster took over at left-back as Sebastien Faure slotted in on the right.

Clark was thrown on for Hutton in an attempt to snatch a goal, but the best scoring chance of the second half fell to the defender Bilel Mohsni.

He should have done better when he got on the end of a Smith free-kick with just five minutes remaining. Somehow, he headed over from a few yards out.

Law did slightly better with an effort in the first period of extra time and struck the post. But, by that stage, both teams looked spent by their exertions.

A comedy of errors involving Foster, Mohsni and Lee McCulloch led to the winner that John Baird netted with just a few minutes remaining.

Given that referee Kevin Clancy refused to award Raith Rovers a penalty in the second half when McCulloch clearly handled the ball inside his own area justice was perhaps done.

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