THE old place won’t have changed much in the years since Gary McAllister last heard the whistle blow whilst the engines revved outside. The requirements and characteristics of what it takes to win at Central Park remain the same, though.
A trip to Cowdenbeath is about as far from life in the Premier League as Jermain Defoe and Steven Davis could get as they prepare to make their Rangers debuts on Friday night. Even for those that haven’t come from such salubrious surroundings, it will be a shock to the system.
It is about attitude as much as talent, application as much as ability, for Steven Gerrard’s side as they kick-off their Scottish Cup campaign against the Blue Brazil.
If Rangers go all the way and have their day in the sun at Hampden, the January night where the journey began will matter little. Nobody in Light Blue is thinking that far ahead, however.
Defoe and Davis joined up with the Gers squad for the first time at their training base in Costa Adeje last week. Now, Central Park awaits.
“As far as stock cars go, Cowdenbeath is one of the best in the world! It’s been a while since I played there to be fair, but I was there as a teenager with Motherwell,” McAllister, the Rangers assistant manager, said.
“I can just remember the stock cars. It will certainly be different for Jermain and I don’t think he’ll have played in anything quite like it.
“I remember as manager at Leeds United we lost at Histon. To be fair, Leeds were in the Third Division so it was only a division above Histon at the time.
“But in all honesty my record wasn’t very good in the FA Cup when I first went to England, but these ties are about having the right mentality and treating the opponent with the ultimate respect. We will prepare in the same way as we would any other game.
“With the demands in the schedule we’ve had it’s been difficult to spend a lot of time working on the opposition but we’ve got a bit of time and will look at the strengths and weaknesses the same as even a European tie.
“It’s all geared trying to get to Hampden on May 25 because the fans expect that. We won’t go with a lightweight team to Cowdenbeath.”
The challenge for Rangers on Friday is to pick up where they left off. It won’t take a similar level of performance from their Old Firm win over Celtic, but the outcome must be the same as they set their sights on a spot in the next round.
The week abroad has given Gerrard, his staff and his players a chance to regroup and reflect. The first half of the campaign was positive, but it is in the second where the medals are handed out and the memories are made.
That day against Celtic – the 1-0 victory taking them level on points at the top of the table – was undoubtedly the highlight so far but the run to the group stages of the Europa League was also an achievement. McAllister knows it could have been even better. He has to be satisfied with where Rangers are, though, especially when you consider where they have come from.
“You might have thought it would have been good to carry on and keep the momentum going after the win over Celtic but we’ve played almost 40 games,” he said. “I felt we were right on the edge and that was an ultimate push against Celtic. Those players definitely needed the break.
“If you ask most of the coaching staff, the almighty run of games we had, right from July 12, was a massive schedule and that was one final push and the players needed that week off.
“It’s the first time I’ve experienced a winter break in all my years in football and I’ve got to say it’s been welcomed. You can see the players – a lot of players who played a lot of minutes, nearly every game – needed it.
“I know we chopped and changed because of suspensions and injuries to key players but three or four were right at the max.
“We can be happy with where we are but being how competitive the coaching staff are we’re looking at it and thinking it was a couple of results away from being fantastic.
“But all in all, if you’d said we’d qualify to the Europa League group stage and be joint top of the table we’d have taken it.
“But it’s important to push on. We don’t have the Thursday-Sunday scenario now. It’s been the first time since pre-season we’ve had a nice week of actually touching on physical training and tactical shape.”
It was in the Spanish sunshine where the Gerrard era began for Rangers as he put his players through their paces during a pre-season trip to Malaga.
Their surroundings in Tenerife were just as tranquil off the park, but the work on it was equally as intense.
Rangers’ efforts thus far have been rewarded but the hard work must continue, and even be surpassed, if their silverware ambitions are to be realised this term.
McAllister said: “From July we’ve just played games and recovered, played games and recovered. We think we can improve so hopefully the best is still to come.
“There was little blips along the way that we can hopefully negate. We need to set another level and increase the demands.
“We can look at a great example of a performance and result against the champions and go ‘Boom, that’s what we need’. That is the level. We can’t compromise. We need to keep trying to nudge it forward all the time. You can’t rest on your laurels because it’s only three points. We go to Kilmarnock in our next league game and it’s the same thing at the end of it.”