Lennon enjoys final build-up

March 16, 2013

Rangers will be without Dean Shiels for Saturday's Irn-Bru Third Division game against Elgin at Borough Briggs Road.

The Northern Ireland midfielder is likely to be out for the remainder of the season after being carried off during the 2-1 home defeat to Annan Athletic last weekend.

Striker Andy Little could also miss the trip north with a knee injury but midfielder David Templeton may return to action following an Achilles problem.

Defenders Ross Perry and Darren Cole, midfielder Lewis Macleod and forward Kevin Kyle remain on the sidelines.

Rangers won 6-2 on their last visit to Elgin in December - a game which was originally postponed on safety grounds after the Moray club sold too many tickets.

However, the Black and Whites, who are sixth in the table, then earned a 1-1 draw at Ibrox in January - a big improvement on their 5-1 defeat in September.

The Ibrox club re-emerged as an Third Division club last summer following administration then liquidation and are on course to win the title.

However, despite being an SPL club in everything but name, performances have been patchy, and the Gers manager and his players came under fire after last week's 2-1 home defeat to Annan Athletic.

Ian McCall, former Rangers player and Dundee United, Queen of the South and Partick boss, in his current role as a pundit, has questioned the quality of player at the Govan club.

McCoist did not name names at his press conference ahead of Saturday's trip to Elgin in the league and stressed that everyone was "entitled to their opinion".

However, he said: "It's very easy to have an opinion without full knowledge of what's going on and that's the beauty of football.

"Everybody has differing opinions, that's why it is easier for me to take criticism because I am very well aware of the difficulties everybody is facing at the club.

"There have been comments from one or two ex-Rangers players who indeed, have coached and managed at a level, which are pretty ignorant because they don't know the full story and they are a little bit misguided.

"They are entitled to their opinion, of course they are, everyone is entitled to their opinion but we in here certainly don't take them too seriously.

"Disappointed? Yes, I am probably disappointed (about the comments) but it certainly doesn't make me alter my focus or change any opinion of where we want to be and how difficult it is going to be to get there because that's my job and I firmly believe I will get us back to the top.

"I speak to people who I think the vast majority of the footballing public would listen to, I'm certainly not embarrassed to tell you that.

"People who know the game inside out. It is not fair (to name them) but certainly people the vast majority of the footballing world would listen to because I have to move forward and take advice.

"I have to make up my own mind, which I will do, and there will be some big decisions coming up which I certainly won't shirk away from but it is an incredible journey and nobody said it wouldn't be a bumpy ride."

The former Rangers striker acknowledged the criticism midfielder Kyle Hutton received from some supporters following the Annan defeat after tweeting that he was going home to watch television after training.

That's life," he said. "Again it's differing opinions. We have a fitness department and we work our boys really, really hard.

"I have been on both sides of the fence, I can understand people saying they should be doing this and doing that.

"Particularly at this stage of the season, it is, hopefully, getting a team that is right physically and mentally for the 90 minutes.

"That's what we think we are doing, that's what we believe we are doing and that is what we will continue to do."

Criticism, in fact, was the main theme of the press conference and McCoist noted that Scottish Football League chief executive David Longmuir had taken stick this week after resurrecting the idea of Rangers and Celtic colt teams entering the SFL, amid the wider debate on league reconstruction.

The Light Blues' boss offered a robust defence of Longmuir as he admitted he would be in favour of the idea.

"I think the criticism is very harsh to be honest," he said.

"I think he is not doing his job if he doesn't bring options and possibilities so I would have to say the criticism of him for bringing it up would be wrong.

"I would welcome it yes. I can understand that there is healthy discussion required to take it forward if it is going to happen but I would certainly welcome the idea.

"Probably ourselves and Celtic would be the two clubs in the country who would, hopefully, be able to run a colt team within a bottom division and it would certainly be something that our club would be interested in, yes."

McCoist, though, believes time is running out for the SPL's 12-12-18 proposal to be implemented for the start of next season.

"My gut feeling is 50-50," he said. "I think the majority of people want it but I think the big issue now is time.

"What I'm hearing and seeing, there seems to a trend turning against 12-12-18 so if we are going to move on anything at all it has to be done rather sharpish."

Lennon took his players to St Andrews for the early part of the week to train and prepare for the Hampden clash.

And he used the extended time with his players to give some individual pep talks ahead of the club's second League Cup final in three years.

Lennon also put his tactics across and showed the players footage of the celebrations when St Mirren won the 1987 Scottish Cup in a bid to inspire his players to glory.

The former Cowdenbeath manager said: "It's been a great week, we have really enjoyed the preparation and the build-up; getting away for a few days, the relaxation and the quality time we spent with the players and going over tactical strengths and weaknesses and how the game plan is going to hopefully pan out on Sunday.

"But more importantly the players got away and got a little bit of quality time to themselves.

"That went well and it has also been good for myself that I can pull one or two of them aside and have a wee five or 10-minute chat.

"Sometimes that's difficult unless you grab them first thing in the morning or get them immediately after the training ground. Sometimes after lunch they have other agendas themselves.

"It was just great in the fact we were in beautiful surroundings and in a relaxed atmosphere.

"It was certainly different the way we have done it. Most clubs would probably go away together at the end of the week.

"But we felt that it would give us an upper hand to get into the players' minds from the early part of the week so we could pick that momentum up and at the tail end of the week we let the players get back to normality, spend it with their loved ones and get a night's sleep in their own beds - and raring to go on Sunday."

Only Lee Mair, David Barron and Graham Carey remain at St Mirren Park from the squad that lost 1-0 to nine-man Rangers in the 2010 final but Lennon is confident his players will handle the occasion, having seen them knock out Celtic in the last four.

He said: "You never know how they are going to be on the day but the experience they had in the semi-final will help.

"We know it's going to be a bigger crowd and there will be an absolutely terrific atmosphere.

"A lot of players throughout their career will not get to a final at all. For some of our players this might be their only cup final, for other ones it may be the start of many for them.

"My message come Sunday will be to make sure they make it an occasion that lives long in their memory for the rest of their lives and don't waste this opportunity."

Lennon added: "We have certainly earned the right to be here. A lot of people didn't expect us to go and beat Aberdeen up at Pittodrie.

"Everyone wrote us off in the semi-final against Celtic but we brought our true qualities out on that day.

"But that doesn't give us any right to lift the cup on Sunday.

"The team that earns the right to lift the cup on Sunday will be the team that works the hardest and brings out their true qualities on the day.

"The true strength of these players is when they believe in themselves and believe in one another, when they work together and bring out their key strengths.

"When they do that, we are more than a match for anyone."