Ibrox men struggle to hit high notes in their rock and roller derby

ONE of the main characteristics of a derby?

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McCoist is delighted with his young side's run of seven victories during December
McCoist is delighted with his young side's run of seven victories during December

Fans are always a little bit on edge. More so than normal.

For the entire duration of Saturday's encounter, one blinkered but erudite Queen's Park fan – comparing Jamie Brough to Bobby Moore was surely stretching it just a little – gave an incessant running commentary of the action before us.

To his credit, the only time in the 93 minutes he found reason to swear came as Fraser Aird's shot in the dying embers of this match flew past the cramping legs of the Irn-Bru Third Division amateurs and nestled into the bottom corner of the net.

The Hampden side had good reason to curse the 1-0 defeat.

Yes, they were outplayed in most of the contest, but with a little bit more composure in front of goal they just might have done enough to take something.

This festive Glasgow derby was not the kind that Rangers are traditionally accustomed to at this time of year, yet there was plenty about Saturday's game at the National Stadium that would have seemed familiar to the Ibrox club.

Referee Willie Collum copped it from both sets of supporters and both technical areas. Ian Black was taken off before he was sent off, Queen's substitute Aidan Connolly, who looked as though he'd climbed over the wall from the local primary school to ask for a game, was the victim of mistaken identity when it came to dishing out a booking, Brough was dismissed for a second yellow that veered hugely on the soft side while the last-minute goal was celebrated by Ally McCoist with as much gusto as any that decided an Old Firm tie in his favour.

Yet, for all that there was theatre where quality was lacking, it was not lost on the Rangers manager that the last time the club were at Hampden, 21 months ago, it was an injury-time winner from Nikica Jelavic as Rangers beat Celtic to claim the Scottish Communities League Cup.

The difference between that Light Blues side and the current Ibrox squad is quite staggering.

Gone are the big names, with only Lee McCulloch, Kyle Hutton and Neil Alexander remaining.

So while McCoist's side are on their way to the Third Division title at a canter, the Rangers manager knows full well that, while they are edging their way back up, they will surely need to inject genuine quality at some stage.

Saturday's win was the 10th on the bounce for a Rangers side who initially struggled to get to grips with the raw physicality of the bottom tier.

It looks likely that they will do what many expected them to do and romp this league by a considerable distance, which is basically all they can do this season.

Yet, while they are playing more fluently, there is still a pedestrian side to Rangers at times when they don't move the ball quickly enough and when they find themselves struggling to make space and find the pass that opens teams up at the back.

And for all that they imposed themselves on Queen's at the weekend, keeper Neil Parry did not really come to the fore until the second period when he enjoyed two fine saves.

"We can play better than we did on Saturday and it would be wrong of me not to say that," said McCoist.

"But it would be wrong of me not to remind everybody that we have recorded seven wins in December.

"I've got to be harsh with the players at times but when you take a step back, they've been fabulous this month."

Teenager Lawrence Shankland had a great chance to nick a goal for the hosts when Rangers, pushing forward so often in the latter stages of the game, lost their shape at the back and left a gaping hole.

The Queen's Park kid could only muster an ineffective shot that didn't really threaten, but there are still signs there that the Third Division leaders are vulnerable.

Not that it is something that will require any serious surgery now.

The Ibrox outfit will be watching with interest the discussions about league reconstruction and what the future may hold for them, but of more immediate concern is getting to the end of what is already a bizarre campaign.

They will need to make sure of the Third Division title and see where the journey takes them next season.

But on this evidence, this Glasgow derby is about all they could really stomach at this stage of their recovery.

A William Hill Scottish Cup run is the only possibility of an Old Firm game this season. But it would seem likely that such a fixture would be greeted more with trepidation, voiced only privately perhaps, than optimism given the depth of quality that has been shorn from the Ibrox squad.

And no number of victories in the Third Division, convincing or otherwise, will camouflage that.

Sport

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