Defeat leaves Ally McCoist facing questions over Rangers' flaws

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Rangers manager Ally McCoist
Ally McCoist has led Rangers to back-to-back promotions from Scotland's fourth tier to the Championship

Hibernian exposed all of Rangers' flaws.

In winning 3-1 at Ibrox, they renewed old questions about the worth of the side put together by Ally McCoist, and the manager's ability to build and renew his team on each stage of the journey back towards the top flight.

McCoist knows judgements are always being made at Ibrox.

He fought hard enough as a player to overcome the crowd's initial scepticism and disdain for his own talent to know the demands that come with the job.

Walter Smith, his friend and predecessor, is revered by the Ibrox support, but there were occasions down the years when he received scathing reviews.

Results dictate the mood, and as the Rangers players left the field on Monday night, it was evident that anger and frustration were the principal reactions.

McCoist will continue in the role, because he remains convinced that he can rebuild the squad; the board's most pressing matter is how to fund the club beyond December, with the accounts needing to be published and the annual general meeting held before the end of the year.

David Gray scores for Hibernian
David Gray nodded home Hibernian's second goal as they beat Rangers 3-1 at Ibrox on Monday night

Rangers remain, fundamentally, a damaged club. The crowd of a little more than 31,000 was impressive under the circumstances, but if 15,000 fans hadn't refused to renew their season tickets during the summer - in protest at the way the club is being run - then the attendances of more than 40,000 in recent seasons would have been maintained.

It seemed typical of the shifting sands around Rangers that the day after the defeat to Hibs, 4.25m shares were traded (around 5% of Rangers International Football Club) in a deal worth more than £850,000.

The buyer and seller have yet to be officially confirmed, although the largest single shareholders Laxey Partners said that they were not involved in the transaction.

It was also announced to the Stock Exchange that the shareholders George Letham and Sandy Easdale have been paid back their respective £1m and £500,000 loans, with the attendant securities over Edmiston House and the Albion Car Park released.

Those repayments would have been funded by some of the £3.1m raised in the recent open offer of shares, money which was required for running costs.

It almost seemed incidental that Craig Whyte was also banned from operating as a director in the UK for 15 years following an Insolvency Service investigation into the way he purchased and ran Rangers Football Club plc. There would have been anger and frustration amongst fans at the events of the past two years, and Whyte's principal role in that, but it's of no real consequence to current events.

Hibernian players celebrate Jason Cummings' goal
The Hibernian players hail Jason Cummings after he netted the opening goal against Rangers

That backdrop of uncertainty and mistrust, as well as a 12-month registration ban, has hampered McCoist's recruitment strategy. The team has always operated with the second-highest wage budget in Scotland, though, and the expectations amongst the fans have never diminished. The team failed to meet those standards against Hibs, a point that would not have been lost on the manager.

So where does that leave his reign? In critical need of a period of rehabilitation.

The starting line-up at Ibrox was too conservative for a game that Rangers needed to win convincingly to maintain the pressure on the Championship leaders, Hearts. Yet in paying too much attention to keeping Hibs at bay, playing Arnold Peralta and Steven Smith - two defensive figures - in the wide midfield areas resulted in leaving Rangers exposed.

There was an individual error in the build-up to the opening goal, when Peralta panicked as a long kick out from the Hibs goalkeeper Mark Oxley bore down on him, and he allowed Jason Cummings in to score.

The vulnerabilities of the Rangers defence have been evident all season, in particular the harebrained and rash tendencies of Bilel Mohsni, and the unsuitability of Darren McGregor playing at right-back, despite his dogged application.

Mohsni was a liability again at Ibrox, and turned on the crowd when they grew exasperated. Having signed McGregor, a game and able centre-back, and Marius Zaliukas in the summer, McCoist has options for the position, but has retained his faith in Mohsni.

The player has not repaid his manager. Nicky Law has too often been peripheral in games, despite having been an impressive attacking force for Motherwell. The same can be said of Dean Shiels, who was crowded out in the number 10 role against Hibs, while Kris Boyd has been starved of service, as well as having been off form.

McCoist has problems to solve, but that is an integral part of management. Conceding three goals in 14 minutes to Hibs, who arrived at Ibrox second bottom of the Championship, undermined Rangers.

Rangers captain Lee McCulloch and Nicky Law (right)
Rangers captain Lee McCulloch and Nicky Law (right) are dejected as they leave the field after losing to Hibs

McCoist needs to address the imbalance in his midfield and defence, but also find a solution on the occasions when there is a lack of tempo and urgency to their play.

It is only October, and Hearts are only six points clear in the Championship, but Rangers have fallen short of the standards being set by their title rivals and their own fans. McCoist will understand that better than most, but empathy does not make a manager.

Hard decisions need to be addressed, and problems solved.

How McCoist handles that, in perhaps the most crucial season of Rangers' rebuilding, will shape his reputation.

Some fans were already clear as they made their displeasure known on Monday night.

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