RANGERS frittered away two more precious points in their increasingly unlikely bid for a return to top-flight football as Stuart McCall was again unable to bring the momentum his appointment as manager was designed to inject.
Scorers: Rangers - Clark (72, 77)′; Alloa - Gordon (53), Buchanan (82)
Nicky Clark looked to have spared the Ibrox side from another humbling result when his first goals since November cancelled out Ben Gordon’s opener for Alloa.
But the Clackmannanshire side, who have caused Rangers no end of grief this season, hit back with an 82nd minute leveller from Liam Buchanan.
Rangers have now dropped 16 points in their last nine league games since the departure of Ally McCoist as manager. McCall, like caretaker Kenny McDowall before him, is discovering that this may be a team which is beyond repair or redemption.
They are now six points behind second-placed Hibs, whom they face at Easter Road on Sunday, and also under increasing threat from Queen of the South and Falkirk simply to finish in the play-off places.
McCall can do little more than juggle with the dubious standard of playing resources available to him as he seeks a formula which might yet reverse the decline in Rangers’ form and salvage their promotion hopes.
He made five changes to his starting line-up from Saturday’s anti-climactic draw at home to Livingston. Some were enforced, with Sebastian Faure and Haris Vuckic injured. Some were through choice as Lee Robinson, Kyle Hutton and Kenny Miller were the others to drop out.
Cammy Bell replaced Robinson in goal as he made his first appearance since suffering a serious neck injury last August, while Marius Zaliukas, Dean Shiels, Andy Murdoch and Kris Boyd were all drafted in.
But it seems no combination of their current personnel can significantly alter a generally laboured style of play from Rangers which has become all too familiar to their support.
The home side enjoyed plenty of possession and were mainly on the front foot from the opening moments but lacked tempo and incision in the attacking third of the pitch.
There was an early sight of goal for Clark when he was picked out by Nicky Law’s cross from the right but the striker’s header was comfortably held by Alloa ‘keeper Craig McDowall.
Clark was then guilty of both bad finishing and poor decision making when he scooped a shot wildly over when he should have laid the ball back into the path of the unmarked Boyd.
Tom Walsh, retained in the starting line-up by McCall, provided the home fans with some encouragement as he occasionally brought a spark to proceedings. The 18-year-old midfielder came close in the 18th minute when he cut in from the left and sent a dipping shot narrowly over the crossbar with McDowall back-pedalling anxiously.
Shiels, making his first starting appearance since December, struggled to impose himself on proceedings. He did produce a good run and cross to pick out Boyd but the striker’s tame shot went straight to McDowall.
A clever reverse pass from Walsh set Lee Wallace free on the left of the Alloa penalty area but the full-back’s low cross was intercepted by Darryl Meggatt before Boyd could get on the end of it.
The frustration of the Rangers fans predictably intensified and the half-time whistle provoked a now almost customary chorus of jeers. That level of dissent was cranked up a few notches when Alloa went ahead eight minutes after the resumption. McCall had spoken in his programme notes of Rangers’ weakness in dealing with cross balls into their penalty area this season and it was a failing which haunted them once again here.
Wallace conceded a free-kick wide on Alloa’s right with a foul on Graeme Holmes. The set piece was whipped in by Mark Docherty towards the near post where Gordon was able to steal a yard of space and glance a clever header beyond Bell at the keeper’s left hand post.
Rangers tried to produce an immediate response and McDowall made a fine reaction save to prevent Darren McGregor equalising with a close-range header four minutes later.
McCall reacted to the unfolding crisis by withdrawing Zaliukas and replacing him with David Templeton as he switched to a 3-5-2 formation.
The change brought a belated level of intensity to Rangers play and they drew level in the 71st minute.
Alloa were unable to properly clear a corner, the ball dropping to Lee McCulloch whose shot was deflected onto the crossbar. It rebounded invitingly to Clark who steered a firm header beyond the wrong-footed McDowall.
The momentum was firmly with the home side now and they appeared to have turned it around decisively when they went 2-1 in front six minutes later.
Templeton stretched the Alloa defence before delivering a fine cross from the left which Clark nodded beyond McDowall from close range. McDowall prevented Rangers from putting the game out of Alloa’s reach when he made a fine save to keep out a stinging shot from Shiels.
It proved to be a crucial intervention as the visitors stunned Rangers by making it 2-2 with eight minutes remaining.
Docherty was the provider once more, sending Buchanan clear on the left side of the penalty area. The striker produced a sublime finish, clipping his shot over the advancing Bell.
Rangers: Bell, McGregor, McCulloch, Zaliukas (Templeton 63), Wallace; Law, Murdoch, Shiels, Walsh; Clark, Boyd (Daly 69). Subs not used: Robinson, Mohsni, Black, Miller, Sinnamon.
Alloa Athletic: McDowall, Doyle, Gordon, Marr, Meggatt; Tiffoney (Flannigan 61), Holmes, McCord, Docherty (Benedictus 84); Cawley; Buchanan (Chopra 90). Subs not used: Gibson, Rutherford, Layne, Roberts.
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