RANGERS eventually collected their sixth league win in a row, but they were handed an almighty fright in a thoroughly entertaining clash at Links Park.
It was the first time Rangers had ever played a league match at the Angus ground and this encounter won’t be forgotten in a hurry after Ally McCoist’s men just about squeezed three points from their visit. But they had to fight, battle and scratch all the way to get the win. Montrose – who were on an excellent run themselves of six games without a loss – quickly extinguished any thoughts of them being intimidated by the challenge presented by Rangers in a barnstorming start, where they afforded their lofty opponents no respect.
They were rewarded by a fine goal from Lloyd Young, but that seemed to kickstart Rangers and they soon equalised through a Lee McCulloch penalty. They must have thought it was all over when Dean Shiels quickly added to a Kevin Kyle goal midway through the second half, but Stuart Garden’s side weren’t finished yet.
Firstly, sub David Gray pulled a goal back with a brilliant finish, before they twice hit the woodwork which would have earned them the point they deserved, before sub Robbie Crawford also hit the post for Rangers. The difference was, though, that his shot ended in the net instead of bouncing away and that secured a tough three points in a thrilling clash. And manager McCoist accepted his men were in a real battle. He said: “I’ve got to say I’m delighted with the three points. But our defending today... it has been good recently, but we slipped back today. We looked as if we were all over the place at times. That said, we got away with it because we took our chances in the second half.
“It’s probably a game we wouldn’t have won three weeks into the season, we would probably have got a draw the way things were going. I just hope they are learning to win games, especially away from home. I’m genuinely pleased with the result. We seem to have developed a little bit of togetherness.
“It was a right competitive, hard-fought game, which we knew it would be because they have been undefeated in six. We knew coming up here on the artificial surface it would be extremely difficult.” Montrose got rattled right into Rangers from the start and they deserved to take their 16th-minute lead. A simple long throw into the box from Stephen McNally should have been meat and drink for the Rangers defence, but they were caught sleeping and Lloyd Young arrowed a controlled volley with his right foot past Neil Alexander and into the net. In fairness to Rangers though, they responded in exactly the right way with a barnstorming reply. McNally had few complaints when he clumsily bundled down David Templeton in the box. Skipper McCulloch converted the resulting spot kick for his 17th goal of the season. There was nothing between the teams until Rangers took the lead midway through the second half, Shiels teeing up Kyle in the box and the giant striker netting a composed finish.
If that was cruel on Montrose, it got even worse for them two minutes later when sharp play from Lewis MacLeod saw him burst through on a quick counter-attack before spotting the unmarked Shiels, who beat Sandy Wood with a neat shot to end the contest... or so you would have thought.
But the home side refused to accept their fate and sub Gray netted with his first touch of the ball when his superb dig from the edge of the box floated over the stranded Alexander. And they thought they had levelled when Garry Woods burst through a static Rangers defence and crashed his effort off the bar, before sub Scott Johnston cracked a shot against the post.
McKay set up sub Crawford to score deep in injury time to hand Rangers a rather flattering win.
Montrose boss Garden insisted: “We deserved something because of the effort we put into it and on the day, we didn’t have the rub of the green.”
Montrose: Wood; McNally, Crawford, Campbell, Watson; Masson (Johnston 84), Young, Winter, L McIntosh; R McIntosh (Gray 75), Wood. Subs not used: McLeish, Morton, Crawford.
Rangers: Alexander; Argyriou, McCulloch, Hegarty, Wallace; Little, MacLeod, Hutton, Templeton (McKay 64); Shiels (Naismith 75), Kyle (Crawford 90). Subs not used: Currie, Cole.
Referee: B Madden. Attendance: 4,205.