STRIP away the crowd, the venue, the colour of the players’ shirts and the television coverage, and what you had here was a bog-standard, unremarkable Third Division match between two sides who belong there.
No shame in that for Stirling, who spent the early part of the season propping up the league, but for Rangers, runaway leaders who argue that they should be catapulted into the second tier of any reconstruction plans, it is more than a little embarrassing.
Sure, they had Ian Black suspended, Andrew Little on international duty and David Templeton among those on a lengthy injury list, but really, those who stepped in, including the produce of the club’s Murray Park “conveyor belt”, must be capable of better.
This was no backs-to-the-wall Stirling performance in which the visitors stole a point by riding their luck. There were no refereeing decisions that Rangers could complain about. Nor were the home side guilty only of failing to take their chances.
The truth was that they didn’t make any. In fact, they didn’t do anything, apart from knock the ball around at the back. It was a stagnant, nondescript display so lacking in ideas, never mind shots at goal, that it is bound to raise questions about the future of Ally McCoist, their manager.
This, after all, was no one-off. Lethargy has been a recurring feature of Rangers’ recent form. In four matches against Stirling this season, they have won one, drawn two and lost the other. Declining crowds reflect growing frustration. “Less time tweeting, more time training,” it said on a banner unfurled just before the end, a reference to the recent tweet by Kyle Hutton that so many fans objected to.
And to think that this could have been the day when Rangers wrapped up the title. As it turned out, the postponement of Queen’s Park’s match against Annan made that impossible, but if this is how they play when a medal is up for grabs, heaven only knows how they will be come the fag-end of the season.
Stirling were comfortable throughout. Greig McDonald, their manager, believes that his players, now seventh in the league, have grown in stature with every match against Rangers. Here, they competed and passed the ball well, while Scott Davidson was a constant threat behind the striker, Jordan White, who scored four in a 9-1 win against East Stirlingshire last week.
You can see why Rangers’ attendances have tailed off. Such was their lack of urgency during the first half that the match was not so much pedestrian as stationary.
The home side had plenty of the ball, but showed not the slightest ambition with it. Kane Hemmings had a couple of chances – one he headed over the bar, another he screwed wide with only the goalkeeper to beat – but, in the main, it was painful to watch. The Wales fans who laid their flags across seats in the away section must have been regretting their
decision to make a weekend of it.
Stirling grew in confidence, as they have throughout the season, so that by the time Craig Thomson was blowing the half-time whistle, the home support were loudly expressing their disgust. It would have been worse for them had Fraser Aird not cleared White’s header off the line after a corner by Davidson. Neil Alexander also did enough to spook Davidson when he had a clear-cut chance at the back post, the Stirling player scooping his shot over the bar.
“It’s like the walking dead out there,” yelled one disenchanted supporter. And he was right. Although a run and shot by Aird tested the Stirling goalkeeper, the biggest threat was at the other end. When Davidson had a clear sight at goal after a cross by Phil Johnston, his mishit shot, that spun off Lee McCulloch, had to be scrambled away by Alexander.
Rangers, meanwhile were devoid of imagination. Apart from a close-range effort by Hemmings, which he turned round the post, there was no more at the end of the match than there was at the beginning to suggest that they had the wherewithal to get in their opponents’ penalty area, never mind find the net.
Rangers: Alexander, Hegarty, Cribari, Faure, Wallace, McCulloch, McKay (Naismith 60), Hutton, Hemmings (Mitchell 89), Crawford, Aird (Argyrious 77). Unused subs: Gallacher, Murdoch.
Striling Albion: Filler, McCunnie, Forsyth, McClune, Bishop, Thom, Flood (Ashe 77), Ferry, White, Davidson (Weir 65), Johnston (Cunningham 89). Unused subs: Crawford, Weir, Ashe, Cunningham, Day.
Referee: C Thomson. Attendance: 44,608.