Alloa dent Rangers’ on-field optimism

THERE was no shirking from Lee McCulloch as he summed up a Rangers performance in Alloa that was bereft in so many respects. “In the first half we were really poor,” said the Ibrox captain. “We weren’t getting close enough to the ball as a team. I think a lot of the boys, as a team, were maybe believing our own hype after the last couple of games. And that’s disappointing.”

Jonathan Tiffoney heads Alloa into the lead against Rangers. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS

Alloa 1-1 Rangers

Scorers: Alloa - Tiffoney (35); Rangers - Templeton (84)

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A visiting support utterly silenced in the Indodrill Stadium, save for the moments after an 85th-minute equaliser by David Templeton scrambled his team a draw, would have been dismayed more than disappointed. The League Cup victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle last Tuesday, and the 4-0 doing of Raith Rovers in the Championship prior to that, were supposed to have offered succour. And spelled out that, whatever the fears over where the club is heading on the financial front, in the football sphere, the necessary elements were coming together.

Rangers manager Ally McCoist, McCulloch and the entire Rangers camp, claimed to make no excuses for a result that allowed Hearts to restore a three-point gap at the top of the Championship table. At the same time, though, they pointed to the abject artificial pitch and Alloa’s time-wasting tactics as proving significant in a seven-game winning run being brought to an end.

Certainly, losing Lewis Macleod after only 13 minutes, and then Nicky Clark just before half-time, did not help the Rangers cause. McCulloch described the result as the product of an “off day”, and insisted the team was “moving forward”. The club’s League Cup tie on Falkirk’s plastic pitch tomorrow night will reveal the merit of the 36-year-old’s weekend assessment.

Moreover, for all and any possible contributory factors, the bottom line is that if part-time Alloa could produce craft and invention on a difficult surface, why did that prove so beyond a squad costing £5m and boasting surely more technical gifted performers?

Especially in an opening period – wherein Jonathan Tiffoney’s 35th minute glancing header from an inswinging left-flank cross delivered by Mark Docherty – the skills gap appeared to place McCoist’s men firmly on the deficit side. The midfielder pairing of Ian Black and Nicky Law was moribund, and up front nothing came off for Kris Boyd who, remarkably, is still searching for a first league goal.

McCulloch maintained there was sufficient variety in the visitors’ attacking play, even if Rangers only start to hem in Alloa when the part-timers began to tire after an hour. “We are putting loads of balls in the box and when you’ve got Boydy and Jon Daly up there that’s exactly what they are wanting,” he said. “Maybe we lacked a bit of luck, to get a break of the ball. But they worked really hard and we tried to create something for them.”

Alloa’s first win over Rangers in nine attempts across the past century probably would have arrived but for Greig Spence shooting straight at Steve Simenson after finding himself in a scoring position only 19 minutes from time.

“We’ve broken away and I’ve managed to get one on one with Blackie and I’ve cut inside,” Spence said. “Every day in training I put it in the bottom corner from there, but I was put off-balance a bit and I’ve got no power in the shot. It’s disappointing.”

Disappointing is what it was for Barry Smith, who considered his team’s belief, heart and defending was all praiseworthy. Spence, for his part, did not deny that the home side did everything they could to knock Rangers off their stride.

“I think we had to [take time]. You’ve got to try and get any advantage you can. We don’t want to let them get into a rhythm where their fans are behind them and they are battering down our goal for 90 minutes. It was just about being a wee bit cute. We’re not here just for them to turn up and beat us – we are going to do everything we can get to stop them getting a result.”

With Alloa now having taken four points from consecutive home games against Hibs and Rangers, Spence maintained that the supposed makeweights in this Championship are capable of packing a punch. “It’s going to be hard for them [Rangers],” said the 22-year-old. “Every week they turn up it’s a cup final for the other team and it was definitely a cup final for us. We probably produced an extra ten per cent that we might not have week in, week out. So it’s going to be difficult when big clubs come to grounds like this. I don’t think they enjoy Alloa, for a start we kicked lumps out of them, there was a dry pitch on the astroturf and we made it difficult for them.”