FOR the first time in four meetings this season, Alloa Athletic failed to deny Rangers, but it wasn’t for the want of trying. Had Greig Spence scored with a late free kick at the Indodrill Stadium yesterday, few would have begrudged his relegation-threatened team the point.
As it was, Steve Simonsen parried his shot, Liam Buchanan failed to find the target with the rebound, and Rangers were off the hook. An early goal by Nicky Law means that the Ibrox side have secured back-to-back victories for the first time since early November and lost no further ground on leaders Hearts.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
In the circumstances, they were happy to take the points and run, even if question marks surrounded their performance. They have struggled all season against Alloa, who have drawn with them twice and pulled off that momentous 3-2 win here in the Petrofac Training Cup.
That was the harrowing experience that more or less cost Ally McCoist his job. Yesterday, the man who took over as caretaker manager, wanted first and foremost to avoid another humiliation. “They’re a difficult team,” said Kenny McDowall. “They make it difficult for anyone who comes here, and we’re no different. They work really hard. I feel we did well, created good chances and failed to punish them. That’s the only thing the players are guilty of today – not taking the chances they created. It was a good day’s work.”
In truth, the visitors laboured for long spells against an Alloa team who were tidy in possession, thanks mainly to the midfield work of Ryan McCord. There were times when Rangers struggled in Baltic conditions, on an artificial pitch that threw up so many pellets, they spun from the ball like rainwater.
“I don’t know if they got a new order of pellets in for Christmas, but the boys were saying there seemed to be more of them than last time,” said McDowall. “It’s really difficult. You can see it when players are shooting. Some of them can’t get it airborne. I’m not keen on it at all.”
Despite growing hope that their problems off the pitch could be nearing some kind of resolution, there is nothing like a mid-winter match in Alloa to keep things in perspective. What used to be known as Recreation Park is a tidy little ground, but returning to the summit of Scottish football, never mind the rarefied air of Europe, seems a long way off on days like these.
When intermittent blizzards were not making a snow scene of this, a bitter, swirling wind introduced an element of uncertainty. In one particular episode, Simonsen, the Rangers goalkeeper, watched his clearance from the edge of the penalty area loop into the air and land about three yards further up the pitch.
Much to the relief of a rather quiet Rangers support, their team quickly overcame a nervy start. After an early scare when Liam Buchanan’s lob slipped by the post, the visitors seized control with a simple opener. John Daly collected in the channel, cut the ball back from the byeline and saw Law convert with his instep.
Alloa, though, grew into the game, with Stephen Simmons their biggest threat, drifting into the box from his berth in central midfield. His looping header was tipped over by Simonsen, who had less trouble dealing with the same player’s shot, early in the second half.
Several times more, Simmons ghosted into promising positions as Alloa gathered momentum. By the time, they were bringing on Spence, whose two late goals turned these teams’ last match on its head, there was every reason for Rangers to fear a repeat. He was unfortunate to see his free kick, curled round the wall, pushed away by Simonsen.
“Any Alloa fan watching that game will know how much the boys put in,” said Barry Smith, their manager. “I’m frustrated we never took anything from the game. It’s been the same story for the last few weeks. We need to start picking up points.”
Alloa Athletic: McDowall; Doyle, Gordon, Benedictus, Meggatt; Holmes, Simmons (Ferns 83), McCord, Docherty (Spence 64); Buchanan, Cawley.
Rangers: Simonsen; Foster, McGregor, McCulloch, Wallace; Templeton (Aird 65), Law, Hutton, Smith; Miller (Clark 84), Daly (Boyd 65).
Referee: Greg Aitken. Attendance: 3,012
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS