This wasn’t so much a game of two halves as a game of two teams.
Scorers: Rangers - Shiels 13; Daly 24; Brechin City - Robb 51
In the first half we were presented with the Rangers of Dr Jekyll as the boys in blue lorded it through the first half as if the only mystery was why Brechin City had had the temerity to bother turning up. In the second, though, we had the sorry spectacle of Rangers as Mr Hyde, who went downhill fast as the rain began to lash down and, after losing Bilel Mohsni for a second yellow card, were lucky to hang on to win a game that they had dominated but which so nearly slipped away from them.
Rangers boss Ally McCoist acknowledged that the crowd, which became increasingly restless and vocal as the match wore on, were right to be frustrated. Yet he struggled to explain why a side which had stopped the visitors getting a single shot on goal before half-time allowed Brechin to force their way back into the game and then besiege Rangers’ goal for the final 20 minutes.
“After 35-40 minutes we were really good and could have been five or six up,” said McCoist. “The
sending-off changed everything. After that Brechin had us under the cosh and we were hanging on by the end. It’s very disappointing – I can understand the fans’ frustration.”
The denouement to this game was all the more remarkable because for much of the first half it looked as if Rangers might rack up a rugby score. In the early stages they were bright, energetic and irrepressible in attack, and when they lost the ball they pressed Brechin with such unrelenting hunger that the men from Angus, high on confidence after winning their last three games to move to fifth in the league, were unable to keep the ball for longer than a few seconds.
Thankfully for Brechin, their goalkeeper, Graeme Smith, was in inspired form, while Rangers lacked precision in the final third, otherwise this match could have been long over by half-time. The potential for a rout was obvious almost from the beginning, with David Templeton’s shot after five minutes being acrobatically saved by Smith when the Rangers striker looked certain to score.
That turned out to be the story of the first half, with Rangers seemingly opening up Brechin almost at will as they carved out 13 genuine attempts on goal before the break. Several of those were clear-cut chances where a player in blue – invariably Templeton or Dean Shiels – found himself one-on-one with the Brechin ’keeper, only to be thwarted.
By the time the inevitable breakthrough came, Smith had already denied Rangers three times, saving from Templeton, denying Shiels and then dramatically hooking Jon Daly’s header off the line. He could, however, do nothing about Shiels’ glorious opener after quarter of an hour, when the former Hibs player cut back from the right wing and then curled a stunning shot into the top corner from the edge of the penalty box, leaving Smith with no chance.
With Rangers largely attacking down the left, where Templeton, man of the match Lee Wallace and Mohsni bossed proceedings, it was only a matter of time before they extended their advantage.
Sure enough, ten minutes and three good chances later, they went two ahead through the softest of goals when Wallace’s free kick from the right came through a whole group of players and found its way into the corner of the net, with Daly claiming the faintest of touches.
From there, Rangers should have kicked on and put this game beyond doubt; they certainly had enough chances to do so. Yet despite dominating possession and territory, and creating another half-dozen chances before the interval, it was all to no avail.
In the opening moments of the second half it appeared that the same narrative would unfold, yet when Steven Robb picked the ball up just inside Rangers’ half on 51 minutes, the story changed in an instant. Allowed to move forward unimpeded until he got near to the Rangers box, the Brechin player unleashed an unstoppable 20-yard drive that flew into the top corner of the net.
Not that things changed immediately. Rangers still pressed, with Daly, Wallace, Templeton and Nicky Law all forcing Smith into action, but after Mohsni was dismissed on 60 minutes for a second yellow for needlessly kicking the ball at Allan Walker, the momentum gradually shifted. Then, as the match entered the final 20 minutes, it was suddenly Brechin who were looking the more likely scorers.
Bobby Barr and Darren Petrie were two of the catalysts for that turnaround, but the man who really made the difference was former Rangers player Derek Carcary, who came on after an hour and was whipping crosses in throughout a torrid last quarter of an hour. He even had two shots, one which was saved by Cammy Bell and the other – the last kick of the game – which whistled inches wide of the post.
Subs not used: Simonsen, Crawford, Smith, Murdoch.
Goals: D Shiels, 14; J Daly, 25.
Booked: B Mohsni, L McCulloch.
Sent off: B Mohsni (Second bookable offence)
Brechin: Smith, McLean, Brown, Petrie, Hay, McLauchlan, Ferguson (Thomson, 74), Robb (Carcary, 61), A Jackson, Walker (Molloy, 67), Barr.
Subs not used: Nelson, S Jackson, Moyes, Boag.
Goals: S Robb, 52.
Booked: P McLean, D Petrie, A Walker, B Barr.
Referee: S O’Reilly