RANGERS were supposed to have shaken off all the lethargy and labouring tendencies that made the title processions of the previous two years far from easy on the eye.
Scorers: Alloa - Tiffoney (35); Rangers - Templeton 84′
Yet for 70 minutes against an Alloa side that produced far more constructive football over that period, Ally McCoist’s men fell back into bad old habits, and until the five minutes, scavenging an equaliser looked beyond the Ibrox men.
Seeking an eighth straight victory, the new, altogether-different, Ibrox side was supposedly evidenced in a midweek League Cup win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle and the thumping of Raith Rovers that preceded that. Yet, for so long at the Indodrill Stadium, Rangers were as ponderous and blunt as at their worst across the past 25 months. But for Greig Spence shooting straight at Steve Simenson with the goal at his mercy 19 minutes from time, Alloa would have wrapped up a first-ever win over a club they had faced eight times in the past century.
Even then, though, it looked as if the club’s first goal in 76 years would be enough. A curling cross from the left by Mark Docherty ten minutes’ from the break allowed Jonathan Tiffoney to crank his neck and graze a header into the far corner. It was a deserved lead for the only side able to produced any invention or craft on a lumpy plastic pitch. It took until a trundler on the turn from Kris Boyd eight minutes from time for keeper John Gibson to be required to make any save. Three minutes later, he clawed out a Lee McCulloch volley from a corner, but was beaten when substitute David Templeton pounced on the loose ball.
McCoist did not attempt to disguise the poverty of the performance, though there were gentle little nips about the approach of the opposition, and the nature of the surface. “We never got going,” he said, though he considered he might look back on the encounter as a point gained. “I thought from Alloa’s point of view they were spot on, they killed the game at every opportunity. That said, we have to do something about that and we didn’t.
“Our tempo was nothing like high enough. I said to the boys if I was in Alloa’s shoes, I’d be taking my time at free kicks and goal kicks too. But we had to do something about it and we didn’t.
“The surface is horrible, but it’s horrible for both teams. It’s just one of those things and it certainly have anything to do with the result or the performance.”
Rangers cause certainly wasn’t helped by Lewis Macleod limping off after 13 minutes with an ankle knock, and then losing Nicky Clark to a shoulder problem just before the interval. Both are likely to miss out when Rangers face Falkirk in the League Cup on Tuesday… on another plastic pitch.
“Come Tuesday we will play a lot better,” said scorer and Macleod’s replacement Templeton. “That surface may also be artificial, but it is a lot better than Alloa. This is one of the older ones and was here when I was at Stenny. It is really sticky and the ball just stopped. We had to handle that and we didn’t do it well enough. A draw was a fair result”.
Alloa manager Barry Smith certainly believed so. With Alloa winners over Hibs in their previous home game, the Tynecastle men are now the only one of the second tier’s “big three” yet to experience the difficulties of the pitch in Alloa. Smith considered that should not be made the story yesterday.
“Most teams come here and say the surface is horrible, because they don’t like playing on artificial pitches, but it didn’t affect the result. What did was that we defended so well, had so much of the game in the first half and created chances.
“I told the lads we can take a lot of belief and heart from that performance, I’ve a lot to build on. But I won’t be disrespectful to anyone, we want this to be a difficult place to play for all teams, not just Hearts, Hibs and Rangers.”