This was a game that everyone at Rangers knew would be set in the context of rejected wage cuts and plush pre-match accommodation at a four-star hotel.
SCORERS - Mohsni 75, Templeton 90
Forfar played the role of redoubtable underdog to near-perfection, and once again gave the Ibrox side something to think about. However, a momentary lapse of concentration with 15 minutes left allowed Bilel Mohsni to steal in and head home the opening goal before substitute David Templeton rifled home a late strike that secured victory for the visitors.
The luxury double-decker bus parked outside the ground was almost as big as the Station Park main stand. The contrasts between the clubs were everywhere except the pitch, where Forfar were Rangers’ match. However, Ally McCoist’s side put renewed financial fears aside for 90 minutes at least as they their 20-point lead at the top of League 1 was restored.
Debutant goalkeeper Steve Simonsen did as much as anyone to keep Forfar out. The 34 year pulled off a thrilling late save when tipping a goal-bound headed deflection off one of his own players onto the bar as Forfar fought to score the goal their efforts deserved. Indeed, few could argue that they were not worth a point from the game. Even as recently as a few years ago, it is unlikely that Simonson ever imagined making his competitive debut for Rangers in a third tier Scottish league match at Station Park, Forfar.
But this is how the former England Under-21 goalkeeper kicked off his Ibrox career last night, called into action after Cammy Bell was allowed time-off to attend the birth of his first child.
Within moments he had reason to fret as Forfar centre-half Stuart Malcolm saw a looping header hit the top of the bar, with Simonsen beaten. By contrast, Rab Douglas was relatively untroubled in the opening stages, although he was called into action to tip a volley from Nicky Law over the bar. He did not need to move quite so smartly when Dean Shiels bore down on him midway through the half; the midfielder’s effort was sliced woefully wide.
The Rangers travelling support already had reason to bawl at the players. This was shaping up to be another awkward assignment at Station Park for their side, who had lost only once this season prior to kick-off – at this venue. Of course, that 2-1 loss in the League Cup is remembered mostly for Ally McCoist’s strong reaction to then chief executive Charles Green’s insistence that the manager had to win a second trophy, along with the League 1 title. The first aim – to lift the championship – is progressing to plan, but this was another trying evening in Angus for McCoist’s men.
Forfar had only lost twice since mid-October, and it was clear to see that they were operating high in confidence. They quickly had Rangers on the back foot by forcing several corners in the opening minutes. It was as if the bell-boy at the Carnoustie hotel had forgotten to given them a wake-up call as the players snoozed in their well-appointed pre-match base. Of course, Rangers were always likely to suffer unflattering comparisons with their part-time opponents, several of whom had to take the afternoon off work in order to make kick-off in time.
Douglas is not one of them, but then he is well into veteran status now. And yet still he held firm. The 41 year-old was required to become more of a factor in the game as Rangers sought to increase the tempo as half-time approached. Their supporters were making it clear they were not impressed. It was certainly difficult to discern any significant difference in class between the teams. Indeed, Gavin Swankie, who scored the extra-time winner in Forfar’s cup win on August, looked to be the silkiest individual on view. Malcolm, meanwhile, was the outstanding defender.
Swankie might have opened the scoring with a volley that was struck towards the near post, and then, on the stroke of half-time, Douglas showed his worth when saving well from Fraser Aird, before grabbing the ball again at the feet of Mohsni as the centre-half sought to convert the rebound.
Simonsen had to admire his elder’s abilities last night. There was less appreciation forthcoming from the Rangers fans. Douglas was greeted with the expected outburst of pantomime booing when the former Celtic goalkeeper took his place in front of the visiting support at the start of the second half. But he seemed to relish the intensity.
As expected, Rangers re-doubled their efforts to open the scoring and the fans surged forward in frustration as referee Stephen Finnie twice turned down appeals for penalties. The first occasion was when Mohsni was simply not decisive enough when challenging for a header at the far post, while Finnie also waved away a hopeful claim for handball after Darren Dods fell on the ball. But with 15 minutes left, the pressure finally told. Mohsni met Aird’s corner with a flashing header and saw his effort crash into the net off the bar. It certainly helped make up for his otherwise erratic display from the centre-half. Templeton’s strike, when only a minute remained, flattered the visitors, but was nonetheless gratefully received by the away fans.
Forfar: Douglas, Fusco (Baxter 58), Dods, Malcolm, Iain Campbell, Kader (Malin 72), Faero, Fotheringham (Ross Campbell 86), Swankie, Hilson, Templeman. Subs not used: Dale, McCabe, Andrews, Hill.
Rangers: Simonsen, Faure, McCulloch, Mohsni, Wallace, Aird, Foster, Law, Macleod, Shiels (Templeton 71), Daly. Subs not used: Telfer, Crawford, Emilson Cribari, Little, Murdoch, Gallagher.