Rangers - Kal Naismith 16
Whatever, Rangers produced yet another away performance right out of the drawer below the one marked ‘bottom’ as they squeaked past Highland League club Forres in the first round of the Scottish Cup. Home manager Charlie Rowley’s post-match summation said everything about how the encounter panned out .
“For the last half hour, no neutral would have realised we were down to ten men,” he said after Nathan Sharp was lost to a second yellow for a brainless handball. “We were the team on the ascendancy and Rangers were playing with one man up front – that tells it’s own story.”
In some ways, it was an all-too-familiar story for Ally McCoist’s side. After Kai Naismith had put them in front by applying a classy finish to bury a cross swept over from the right by Fraser Aird, Rangers looked ready to ransack their hosts. However, within five minutes the visitors were becalmed, never to stir again in the tie. It was Forres who sought to build the play, apply pressure in forward areas and produce goalmouth incident. They rarely made good on their intent, except when Neil Alexander was forced to produce an “instinct” save when Kyle Scott lunged to meet a free-kick from the left on the hour mark. The Rangers keeper didn’t shrink from the fact that, so far this season, his team seem instinctively guff outside of their own environs.
“We can’t play like that, keep hanging on week after week,” he said. “It shouldn’t be like that. [In the second half] we were down the hill and had the wind behind us and thought we were going to create all the pressure and score maybe three, four, five goals hopefully. But we just didn’t get to grips. We kept giving away free kicks and letting them put pressure on us by pumping balls in our box. We found it hard to get out and create any real opportunities: I was probably the harder worked goalie today, which shouldn’t be. We should be coming to these teams, scoring a lot of goals and putting on a show. It didn’t happen for whatever reason – again – and we need to go and look at ourselves in the mirror and put it right on the training ground.”
Among the countless does-not-compute moments thrown up by Rangers’ predicament, yesterday could be added watching the Ibrox club play a Scottish Cup in September. If they want to go all the way to Hampden they would require a cup run longer than the first four under the McCoist management combined.
Of course, quaintness and quirkiness provided the backdrop to Rangers’ foray in Forres. And it was novel to look out from the grandstand of Mosset Park and see punters perched on hills, standing on walls, peering out of their living rooms, and hunching on stairways to take advantage of numerous, non-stadium vantage points offered by the ground being three sides open. Yet, modernity encroached. Well, the modern day phenomenon of a fourth-tier Rangers fitting right in with the lowly nature of their surrounds, which crackled with life and excitement as the locals lapped up the occasion in endearing fashion.
“It’s a bit of a helter-skelter we’re on this season and that was evident in this game,” McCoist said. “As happy as I am to be in the next round I don’t think I’d be doing my job if I didn’t register my disappointment at the way we played and passed the ball.” Injuries to Dean Shiels, Ian Black, David Templeton and Francisco Sandaza forced the Ranger manager to go youthful. The contributions from Lewis McLeod, Aird, Naismith and Robbie Crawford – who forced a save from a crashing volley late on – were among the more acceptable and McCoist didn’t use his reshuffling as an excuse for a win that flattered his team. “With that in mind I have to look at things objectively, but it doesn’t matter the team you put out. You still have to perform better than the level we did.”
His counterpart Crowley thought referee Crawford Allan didn’t perform to a desirable level, denying his team a penalty “on two counts”. He claimed Sebastian Faure had handled before elbowing Scott Moore.
Any bitterness over the outcome was not betrayed by an excitable Scott as he reflected on his what-might-have-been. “I got my leg round it and thought ‘that’s it’. I was in dreamland, I was doing laps, I was away back running all the way to Inverness,” he said. The PE teacher at Elgin Academy hopes his pupils go easy with him. He believes they deserve to after a “valiant effort” that brought a “just amazing” scene when the home crowd in the 2,751-capacity crowd roared them on the field at five to three. “I think we did the home fans and the town proud.”
A fact demonstrated by the haste with which Rangers were determined to get out of the Highland hamlet.
Forres Mechanics: Knight, Fraser, Sharp, Grant, Allan, Duguid (McIntosh 74), McMullan, McPherson, Moore (Davidson 82), Scott, Lawrie. Subs not used: Bremner, Fraser, Stuart.
Rangers: Alexander, Faure, Perry, Cribari, Wallace, Argyriou (Kyel 60), Hutton, McLeod, Aird (Crawford 75), Naimsith, McCulloch. Subs: Gallacher, Hegarty, McKay.
Referee: C Allan. Attendance: 2,751.