IF JACK Palance was alive today he’d have the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not people fetching up at Ibrox every other Saturday to broadcast the strange phenomenon of so many getting so excited about so little.
Scorers: Rangers - Macleod (9); Elgin - Alexander (87 og)
An exploration of the remarkable Rangers fan base – more than 46,000 again yesterday – squeezed into the old television show along with other bizarre spectacles like the 120-year-old Tibetan monk who sleeps naked on a bed of broken glass and the amazing story of Little Leo, the Lion boy of Borneo.
This was a day when Rangers had home advantage, then a one-goal advantage as early as the tenth minute, then a one-man advantage for all of the second half after Elgin had Paul Harkins sent-off harshly for a tackle on Ian Black. These weren’t the only advantages Rangers had, though. They had all the possession, all the chances, all the opportunity in the world to kill off a team they have already scored 14 goals against this season. All the time, but none of the wit. Rangers were desperately poor.
Then, just before the end, it got weird. Ripley’s weird. A free-kick on the right from Daniel Moore was flicked on in the Rangers box by Stewart Leslie, followed by another touch from Jamie Duff. Neil Alexander blocked the effort and then in attempting to gather the loose ball he pulled it back into his own net for an own goal that stunned Ibrox and ensured that, on the final whistle, a brief flurry of boos filled the place.
This was surreal, indeed. Rangers can boast remarkable crowd numbers but their team was woeful; ridiculously lightweight up front and hapless at the back the one time they needed to be organised.
Coming so early in the game, Lewis Mcleod’s opening goal was like a kick in the guts to Elgin and should have meant the beginning of another rout to rival the other routs Rangers have visited upon them already this season; a 5-1, a 3-0 and then a 6-2 destruction just before Christmas. But, of course, it didn’t. Mcleod skipped past a defender and wrong-footed Joe Malin in the Elgin goal but that was as good as it got for the home side. The rest of it was angst-ridden stuff.
For a team that had lost their last two games to Annan and Peterhead in a combined score-line of 5-0, the concession of such an early goal meant they had to climb a footballing Everest and it became akin to climbing Everest in their slippers when they were reduced to ten men just before the half-time break. Harkins hit Black in the tackle but Ross Jack, the Elgin manager, and even Ally McCoist reckoned it was an unfair decision. “I thought it was a good 50-50 tackle,” said Jack. “To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.”
“It was a badly-timed tackle,” added McCoist, “but my initial reaction was that it was a harsh red card.”
The question for Rangers after Harkins departed was this: Did they have the wit to cut their way through the remaining Elgin bodies and post a goals tally to rival their previous goal bonanzas? It was a test they flunked, big-time.
Maybe the first sign of their travails came in the shape of Lee McCulloch missing a sitter just before the break, the same McCulloch who has already scored what seems like a season’s worth of goals. It was Lee Wallace who teed him up, rolling a low cross in from the left that fell to the striker’s feet with no more than six yards separating him from his 23rd goal of a bountiful campaign. His effort was weak, though. So weak that Malin managed to get his body in the way of it and hoof it clear.
At the time, the home crowd wouldn’t have given it a moment’s thought. One chance missed, but there would be others. Against ten men? Many, many others. With goals to boot. It didn’t quite work out that way. Rangers had all the possession and territory. For vast amounts of the second period they hardly left the Elgin half and they had chances. An Andrew Little header, a Dean Shiels volley, a David Templeton shot.
Elgin deserve praise for hanging in there, for refusing to buckle and for re-organising themselves after Harkins’ exit. That said, Rangers’ attempts to unlock then were slow and ponderous and, on occasion, embarrassing.
“At half-time I thought we were in for a bit of a doing,” said Jack. “To come here and pick up a point with ten men is fantastic. We’re milking it. We’re loving Rangers being in the division and I guess some people might have thought beforehand that it could have been nine or ten [goals]. In the second half they were coming at us like trains, so we showed a lot of character.”
Rangers had the support, but the applause most definitely went to the visitors.
Rangers: Alexander, Hegarty, Perry (Faure 75), Emilson Cribari, Wallace, Hutton (Shiels 69), Black, Little, Macleod (McKay 59), Templeton, McCulloch. Subs not used: Currie, Sandaza.
Elgin City: Malin, Nicolson, Crighton, Duff, Beveridge (McLean 60), Niven, Cameron, O’Donoghue (Wyness 80), Harkins, Moore, Leslie. Subs not used: Black, McMullan, Millar.
Referee: John Beaton. Attendance: 46,406.