Limp Rangers fail to rise to the occasion

RANGERS defender Marius Zaluikas hopes Dave King’s first appearance at Ibrox since his long-awaited ascension to power coincides with a more inspiring spectacle after a false start for the new regime at Cowdenbeath’s stadium-cum-race track.

Dave King does a pre-match interview as he takes his seat. Picture:  SNS
Dave King does a pre-match interview as he takes his seat. Picture: SNS

There may be a perception that last week’s EGM success for King, Paul Murray and John Gilligan will herald a brave new world off the pitch, but it was the same old story on the park, as atrocious weather conditions combined with Rangers’ glaring inadequacies to create an instantly forgettable 90 minutes of football.

Aside from Lee McCulloch striking the bar with a glancing header on the stroke of half-time, the visitors barely tested a Cowdenbeath back-line which suffered a club record-equalling 10-0 defeat by Hearts in their previous match and, at minus 45, have the worst goal difference in senior British football.

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However, such has been the ferocity of the boardroom battle at Ibrox and the appetite for new custodians, this dismal afternoon in Fife is unlikely to dampen the fervour of supporters ahead of tomorrow evening’s visit from Queen of the South, with a sizeable crowd expected to salute King.

Dave King does a pre-match interview as he takes his seat. Picture: SNS

One might imagine Zaliukas – who was at Hearts for most of Vladimir Romanov’s reign and was then signed for Rangers by the previous, unpopular regime – would be impervious to ructions in the boardroom by now. But even the Lithuanian defender can see the significance of the next outing at Ibrox. “It should be a special atmosphere,” said the 31-year-old. “It’s important for everyone that we get a full house at Ibrox. I think we need a lift.

“Obviously, we hear about what’s happened off the pitch, but we as players just try to win every game and we just want to play football and not get involved with the off-the-pitch stuff.

“It is just our job to play good football and we are trying to do that. It will be a very tough game on Tuesday and three points will be good for us with everything that is going on.”

King cut a relaxed figure ahead of kick-off, milling with supporters and indulging their appetite for selfies. Once he eventually took his place in the less-than-salubrious surroundings of the Central Park directors box, he endured a 90-minute illustration of the enormity of the task awaiting him. Catch Celtic? Only a brave soul would predict anything other than another season toiling in the Championship at this rate.

It must be noted that the pitch was abominable following a deluge of rain in Fife overnight, while a swirling, whipping wind meant that attempting any sort of high ball was a sheer lottery. That should not entirely mitigate Rangers’ mediocrity, however.

The visitors had started brightly, with Kris Boyd fizzing a ferocious half-volley over the bar from 18 yards before Kenny Miller rippled the side-netting from a tight angle after latching on to a Haris Vuckic pass. Miller, enjoying an energetic first 25 minutes against the part-timers before fading badly, and Darren McGregor both powered right-footed drives over the bar from distance as Rangers pushed for the opener.

Nicky Clark, starting in the same team as Boyd, Miller and Vuckic in what should, in theory, have been an attacking line-up with ample creativity to defeat Cowdenbeath, then shot wide after a neat pass by Boyd. Kenny 
McDowall’s side – although it remains to be seen for how much longer – were made to rue the woodwork on 45 minutes as McCulloch met a Nicky Law corner at the near post, only to see his header crash against Thomson’s cross-bar.

Playing against the wind and facing a Cowdenbeath side determined to restore pride – Nat Wedderburn, John Armstrong and Thomas O’Brien, in particular, were rocks for the Blue Brazil – Rangers were dreadful in the second half. A looping Jon Daly header which drifted wide of Thomson’s right-hand post and a wayward Zaliukas header from another decent Law corner was as good as it got after the break.

Indeed, Rangers could have succumbed to a humiliating defeat if a late Armstrong header had drifted underneath Lee Robinson’s crossbar, rather than landing on the roof of the net.

The Rangers verdict? Disappointing? Absolutely. Predictable? Increasingly. Embarrassing? Not according to Zaliukas. “Why should we be embarrassed?” was the irritated response when the notion was put to him. “Because they lost 10-0? We’re not embarrassed because this was a different story playing here instead of Tynecastle. Conditions played a big part today.

“We can play better, but the positive thing was we got a clean sheet although we didn’t score. We’ll take it from there.”