DAVE King thinks Rangers need saving from their current board, but it was on the pitch yesterday that a rescue mission was required.
Two minutes of stoppage time had been played when Lee McCulloch stepped up to score the penalty that spared his team a scoreless draw. Just when rumour had it that another King statement was on its way, the Rangers players were rallying. David Templeton was brought down in the box, the referee pointed to the spot and McCulloch slotted it into the bottom right-hand corner.
Templeton’s part in the winner was fitting for he had been the sole Rangers player with any spark. It had been a turgid performance by the League One leaders who managed only in the last ten minutes to unsettle a resilient East Fife side.
Ally McCoist admitted that it had not been pretty, but, with 77 points, and the formalities of the title all but concluded, he was in no mood to over-analyse. “Any team – I don’t care who they are – that wins a title will have performances where they feel they can do better,” said the Rangers manager. “The fact that the emphasis is on our performances is due to the fact that we’re [so far ahead] at the top of the league. If it was neck and neck, and we were in another league, nobody would be giving a monkey’s about the performance.”
This was the first time that the television cameras had been to new Bayview, the first time, in fact, that an East Fife match had been broadcast live, hence the lunchtime kick-off and the burger vans and the pitchside advertising. The Rangers fans, only three deep on the temporary terracing that covered three sides of this seaside ground, did not sound like they were up for it, and who could blame them? The championship is effectively won, the novelty of visiting these lesser-known venues has worn off and there are more urgent matters to be addressed off the pitch.
That said, there were no chants from the travelling support, no sign of backing for King, or indeed for McCoist, who has been placed in an awkward position by the club’s latest power struggle. It was so quiet that you could almost hear the Forth lapping up against the car park. Rangers did most of the first-half running, but had only a Nicky Law shot to show for it. When that came back off the post, Bilel Mohsni – or Billy Mooshnie, as he was endearingly named by the pre-match public announcer – failed to capitalise.
There were some other half-chances, but East Fife were competitive, well organised by their manager, Gary Naysmith, and occasionally dangerous on the break. Liam Buchanan and Gary Fisher both released first-half shots that weren’t far off target.
At half-time, East Fife paraded their guest of honour, Harold Davis, who played for both clubs over half a century ago. His spell in Methil was interrupted by two years spent in hospital, recovering from injuries sustained in the Korean War. His trophy-laden stint with Rangers started in 1956, which also happens to be the year in which the Ibrox club last tasted defeat in these parts.
East Fife never really threatened a repeat of that result, but they were disciplined enough to push Rangers all the way. Only late in a tedious second half did they allow their opponents any freedom in the final third. Templeton’s run and shot caused the goalkeeper to parry, but when the ball spun behind him, the excellent Joe Mbu headed clear. Greg Paterson, the home side’s goalkeeper, blocked McCulloch’s effort after Jon Daly had nodded down a cross by Lee Wallace. Then Templeton’s curling shot was turned round the post.
What followed was hard on Naysmith, whose team had executed his gameplan almost to perfection. “I can’t speak highly enough of the players,” said the manager. “I’m gutted for them.”
East Fife: Paterson, Cowan, Durie, Fisher (O’Neill 22), Rutkiewicz, Mbu, McKenzie, Campbell, Smith (Clarke 82), Buchanan (Austin 88), Hughes. Subs not used: Thom, Stewart, Johnstone, Shaw. Booked: Cowan, O’Neill, Rutkiewicz, Clarke.
Rangers: Bell, Foster, Wallace, Black, McCulloch, Mohsni, Templeton, Aird (Crawford 86), Shiels (Little 66), Daly, Law. Subs not used: Simonsen, Smith, Peralta, Faure, Cribari. Goal: McCulloch 90 (pen). Booked: Templeton
Attendance: 4,020. Ref: Alan Muir