It wasn’t a narrow pitch that undid Rangers and their chances of extending their lead at the top of the Ladbrokes Championship table. It was the failure to take their opportunities in front of goal.
For the second week in succession, the league leaders dominated their opponents but were forced to settle for a draw. Last time out, in the Scottish Cup against Kilmarnock, manager Mark Warburton beamed positivity in his post-match presser. After all, they’d outperformed a top-flight side. However, on this occasion he was in a far less generous mood, as he lamented his side’s ability to score more than one goal for the fourth successive game.
“No excuses, you put the ball in the back of the net. Goals change games and it should have been out of sight at half-time,” said a visibly agitated Rangers manager. “There’s no excuse for the pitch, it’s the same for both sets of players. We’ve got to hit the target, test the keeper and be more clinical.”
After expressing his surprise that Alloa had been allowed to change the dimensions of their Indodrill Stadium pitch in mid season, it was a little strange that Warburton opted to start with three natural wingers in the Rangers midfield. But for the opening 25 minutes the plan worked perfectly, with Harry Forrester, starting in an unnatural role in the centre, being involved in almost every attack.
Sixty seconds hadn’t even passed before he got off a shot at goal, sending a Martyn Waghorn pass wide. Six minutes later, he clipped the far post.
The winger seemed to enjoy the freedom of playing centrally, as this allowed him to drift on to either flank to support. A few minutes later he appeared on the right to collect an Andy Halliday back-heel before slicing the ball into the side netting. He then turned provider by creating two good chances for Waghorn, while Jason Holt struck the crossbar after an excellent one-two with James Tavernier.
A goal seemed inevitable but the hosts finally managed to get to grips with the league leaders, and a flick wide from Waghorn would be the only chance of note in the final 15 minutes of the period. This continued into the second half where, other than an early chance for Holt, Rangers couldn’t force a way through the Alloa rearguard.
When a game remains at 0-0, regardless of how much one side is on top, it is always up for grabs. And so it proved when Alloa put themselves ahead on 62 minutes. Wes Foderingham was forced into a reaction save from Dougie Hill, but the Rangers keeper could do nothing from the resulting corner when Jason Marr planted a header into the top corner.
“I want to stress that we had the pitch done a few weeks ago, it wasn’t just for today,” said Alloa manager Jack Ross. “We thought narrowing it would help us attack at set-pieces because the players are more confident of delivering balls into good areas.”
While the goal didn’t immediately shake Rangers into life, they finally got into top gear in the final 15 minutes. Both Billy King and Danny Wilson had efforts repelled by Alloa keeper Scott Gallacher. He then had to be sharp again to push away a Michael O’Halloran effort after the attacker latched on to a Nicky Clark back-heel.
O’Halloran had not looked wholly comfortable in his first start, but the former St Johnstone player brought his new side back into the match after getting on the end of a low Tavernier cross and side-footing it high into the net.
Buoyed by the goal, Rangers cranked up the pressure further, with Tavernier having a drilled shot cleared off the line a minute later. Then O’Halloran, playing with heightened confidence, took off on a terrific run from the right wing, near the halfway line, into the heart of the Alloa penalty box. His shot at goal was deflected into the path of Nicky Clark, but the striker could only hook his effort wide.
Tavernier then had one final effort for the visitors when his header was pushed over by Gallacher. The former Rangers keeper made a number of stops, yet this was his most impressive on the day.