John Coughlin may have been sceptical about the prospect of Rangers as Third Division tourists this season, but he is telling his players to make the best of it.
He takes his East Stirlingshire side to Ibrox on Saturday more in hope than expectation, even after Ally McCoist’s team dropped points at Peterhead on Saturday, although he says that should not stop the team he picks giving their best.
In the summer the Shire boss was one of a number of voices claiming Rangers in the Third Division would not work. His view remains unchanged although he understands the sense of anticipation among players and fans.
“Throughout all the talking over the summer I felt that Rangers would just be too big for the Third Division,” he said. “I wondered whether clubs like ourselves would be able to deal with all the extra off-the-field issues that they would bring.
“Rangers have already demonstrated the advantage they will have in terms of being able to sign players at least until the transfer window closes. In my view, they are taking the proverbial sledgehammer to crack open a nut and, in the process, are limiting the horizons of the other nine teams,” he said.
Coughlin watched some of Rangers opening league draw with Peterhead at the weekend on TV and drew some comfort from what he saw. But he does not believe they will be as vulnerable at home as they might be on the road.
“They are going to a lot of small, unfamiliar places where teams feel at home and the other sides in the league will use that to their advantage,” he said. “I do not think for a minute that Rangers will enjoy coming to Ochilview to face us and, like most big clubs, they might not fancy the 3G surface.”
However Coughlin thinks the boot will be very firmly on the other foot when teams travel to Govan. Shire will be the first to do so in the league and will be very much a test case.
“Although they will have things a bit more difficult on their travels they will try to make up for that when they play teams at Ibrox. Make no mistake, Rangers have a squad of very good players who would, in my view, still be capable of challenging for the SPL title,” he said.
“In that regard, it is perhaps no different to us going playing the old Rangers in a cup-tie. The fact that it is a league game does throw a different slant on it but it will not make it any easier for our players.”
However, those same players should be able to rise to the occasion in the view of their coach, who saw plenty of evidence of what they are capable of in Tuesday night’s 3-0 Ramsdens Cup victory over First Division Airdrie.
“I would hope that will be a real confidence booster for the players,” he said. “They returned to something like the form they showed against Ayr United after turning in two very flat displays against Morton and Queen’s Park. I hope that the whole sense of occasion allows them to raise their game several notches because I believe they will need to,” said Coughlin.
He will have to do without keeper Grant Hay and midfielder Michael Hunter for the Ibrox trip as both players are on holiday. The likelihood of influential playmaker Craig Donaldson being fit is not high either, even though he was named on the bench for Tuesday’s cup game and there is also an injury doubt over Mark Begg.
“I cannot see there being too many changes from Tuesday night. In fact, we may have to bring in one of the under-19s to sit on the bench because we are down on numbers with injuries and holidays. “
n Tickets for Shire fans going to Ibrox will remain on sale today and tomorrow from the Shire Shop in Bainsford. It will be open late until 9 p.m. this evening (Thursday) and tickets will remain on sale until Saturday morning. They cost £17 for adults, £13 for senior citizens and £5 for under-16s.