A second successive scoreless draw means their attempts to do so are draining whatever life – and this was minuscule – there ever was in the first step of the reincarnated club’s journey to the top. To some, waterboarding might seem less torturous.
The Ibrox club’s manager, Ally McCoist, chose to “start with the positives” in his post-match assessment. He even managed to find one, pointing to the fact that his side yesterday clocked up their third consecutive clean sheet. An achievement hardly likely to set the bugles blowing, and on the flipside Rangers have now gone 500 minutes without scoring from open play. In Scottish football’s lowest tier. While playing against part-timers with wage bills on average a 28th of the £7 million with which Rangers are operating.
The figures with which Rangers can be flailed for their impoverished efforts may be familiar, but that makes them no less stunning. All the more so when yesterday McCoist’s side escaped with a point. A Montrose side that produced the more considered and crafted play in the second period had a goal wrongly disallowed by referee Kevin Clancy. A 66th-minute shot from Terry Mason was pushed upwards by Neil Alexander and as the keeper sought to collect it, he was barged by Lee Wallace before Martin Boyle thumped the loose ball into an empty net. Clancy appeared to mistakenly believe a home player had impeded Alexander, and cut the Ibrox men a mighty break.
Montrose didn’t moan about this ill-fortune, but McCoist certainly doesn’t feel like a man who has been blessed with much in the way of luck. He wasn’t oblivious to the disgruntlement from his own support. That centred not only on the dismal nature of the display, but also on his decision to play Kane Hemmings on his own up front, in a
4-1-4-1 formation. Without the injured Dean Shiels and Andy Little, or the suspended (by the club) Francisco Sandaza, McCoist offered a plea in mitigation for his formation. But with Lee McCulloch in the Rangers starting line-up as a defender,his argument appeared somewhat weak.
“We need players, it’s as simple as that. We need players in all areas for next season,” he said. “We can all see there is no real zip or probing – or class, actually – in the forward areas, and I think that’s evident for everybody to see. Hopefully we can get over the line sooner rather than later.
“Of course we [thought of playing McCulloch] up front but we had to balance it out. It would definitely have left us more open at the back, there is no doubt about that. Lee has made us look more solid at the back and the fact we’ve got another clean sheet would certainly back that up. There is the possibility of putting Lee up front, it was an option, but it was an option that we decided not to take.”
How damning is that? Rangers are struggling to both put the ball in their opponents’ net, or stop their opponents scoring because they do not have two Lee McCullochs. It seemed as if they might have been able to do without him in forward areas when David Templeton tested John Gibson with a well-struck effort and then Wallace scrapped the crossbar with a drive earlier on. Save for Gibson pulling of a fine block from Hemmings effort on the turn early in the second period, that was it from Rangers as an attacking force.
Montrose – off the back of a 6-0 defeat – became the third Third Division team in four matches to take points off the Ibrox behemoths as, after finding their feet, they out-passed and out-created their visitors.
Boyle should have made a header count at the back post and Alan Campbell was similarly wasteful. The hosts became firmly the team most likely to score as the encounter entered its closing stages and Alexander was forced to beat away a booming free-kick from Jamie Winter with ten minutes remaining. What remains of Rangers’ credibility in an otherwise part-time set-up wherein only three clubs have yet to take points off them is debatable.
And their title win, confirmed when Elgin City beat Queen’s Park a couple of hours later, won’t close down that discussion.