EVEN by their own hellish standards, it has been a bad week for Rangers. As the search continues for Craig Whyte – the former owner for whom an arrest warrant has been issued – the team’s form has also gone missing.
Scorers: Rangers - McCulloch, 72; Alloa - Buchanan, 78
A late equaliser by Liam Buchanan at Ibrox yesterday ended a run of eight consecutive victories for Ally McCoist’s men.
The last six of those were achieved without the loss of a single goal, but Alloa put paid to that record with Buchanan’s opportunist effort. It was the sixth successive match in which he had scored for Barry Smith’s side, who were disciplined at the back, dogged in midfield and dangerous when the opportunity arose.
There was no urgency about Rangers, no imagination and no reason to complain about the outcome. They needed 72 minutes to take the lead, through Lee McCulloch, and just six more to lose it. Had Sebastian Faure, the substitute, converted a stoppage-time chance instead of swiping it high over the bar, it would have been hard on the visitors.
Rangers, who also drew 1-1 with Alloa in September, had scoring opportunities, but there was no disguising their shortcomings. If they are half as poor at Tynecastle this Saturday, they will have no chance in their Championship showdown with Hearts. “Unless they [Hearts] are worse, but I would have to say, the chances of that would be slim,” said McCoist.
“We didn’t play well. The boys got good praise for winning eight in a row, so we have to take criticism on the chin because we didn’t play well. That said, we should still be winning games when we’re not playing well. We missed really good chances in the first half, and the longer you give the opposition something to hang on to, the more they gain strength.”
In recent years, Rangers have asked for a postponement on international weekends, but they chose to go ahead with this fixture, presumably for fear of a poor attendance in midweek. McCoist gave the impression that he was not altogether in agreement with the board’s decision, but the effect on his squad was negligible. Bilel Mohsni (away with Tunisia) and Arnold Peralta (Honduras) have not played since the defeat by Hibernian in September. Lewis Macleod, who had been with the Scotland squad all week, was permitted by Gordon Strachan to turn out for his club, but he had a quiet game.
Macleod was wide on the right, David Templeton on the left. The latter has struggled to command a place in McCoist’s starting line-up, which perhaps explained the mis-spelled name on his shirt. He, too, struggled to make much headway against opponents who dug in from the start.
Only twice in the opening period did Rangers carve out an opportunity of any note. The first fell to Kris Boyd, when a simple ball ran clean through the Alloa defence, but the striker was denied by the advancing goalkeeper. The second was the product of a slick counter-attack. Macleod released Richard Foster, whose cross picked out Templeton, but the winger’s free header from only six yards never threatened to hit the target.
Alloa repelled Rangers with four defenders and five midfielders, but they were not without ambition. When his opponents backed off, Michael Doyle was all but invited to have a shot, which Steve Simonsen turned round the post. The Rangers goalkeeper had to do the same with Kevin Cawley’s shot.
Booed from the pitch at half-time, Rangers emerged from the interval with a little more urgency. There were shades of Shaun Maloney about Macleod’s curling effort, which Craig McDowall turned round the far post. Then Boyd almost capitalised on a short passback, but, in truth, it was another frustrating afternoon for the striker.
Pretty soon, Rangers again ran out of ideas. Jon Daly came on for Boyd and it was the scruffiest of goals, 18 minutes from the end, that gave them the lead. Macleod supplied the corner, there was a scramble in the six-yard box and McCulloch, falling as he made contact, rammed it over the line.
That should have been that for Alloa, who didn’t quite have the quality in attack to match their spirit in defence, but with 12 minutes left, they were allowed to break in numbers. When Simonsen could only parry Cawley’s shot, Buchanan seized on the rebound.
The home support made no secret of their displeasure when the final whistle sounded, but Smith was interested only in the performance of his own team. “All the credit should go to Alloa for the way we came here and defended resolutely and when we had a chance to play, we played. The goal summed that up.”
Rangers: Simonsen, Foster (Faure 66), McGregor, McCulloch, Smith, MacLeod, Law, Black, Templeton (Clark 80), Miller, Boyd (Daly 59). Subs: Robinson, Hutton, Shiels, Hardie.
Alloa Athletic: McDowall, Doyle, Gordon, Marr, Meggatt, Tiffoney, McCord (Benedictus 90), Simmons, Docherty, Cawley, Buchanan (Ferns 84). Subs: Gibson, Holmes, Hetherington, Asghar, Hynd..
Referee: G Aitken. Attendance: 29,548.