So it was slightly surprising to hear Andrew Davies rate Ibrox as better for atmosphere than Celtic Park following his side’s successful exercise in frustrating the home support on Saturday.
Ross County arrived with a plan. While there was some evident disappointment at failing to secure all three points after the opportunities created in the first half, only one of which was taken by Alex Schalk, the visitors were far from deflated at taking a point.
It was a different story in the Rangers camp. Growing grumpiness at the home side’s failure to build on Lee Wallace’s equaliser after 71 minutes erupted in a short, sharp burst of jeers at the end.
Rangers manager Mark Warburton understood why. “The fans expect to win at home,” he noted. But it’s now happened just seven times in a dozen league matches at Ibrox this season. Rangers have scored only 17 goals in these fixtures, one fewer than bottom club Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
But centre-half Davies was treating Saturday’s draw as a point won by Ross County, rightly so. “When you come to a place like this, you have to be happy with a point,” he said. Davies, pictured right, an ever-impressive presence at the heart of the Ross County defence, expressed sympathy for the home team as they fought to overcome a battling performance by the visitors as well as cope with the expectation of their supporters.
“We know it’s going to happen,” he said, when asked whether preying on the impatience of these fans featured in the visitors’ game-plan. “It’s a fantastic club but they want to win games, they want to score lots of goals and we know if we keep the ball and frustrate them the crowd will turn.
“You saw that in the first half,” he added. “They [the fans] turned straight away especially when we scored. You could just feel them and I think you could feel their players struggling to cope with that. They’re a fantastic team with a fantastic manager and they’ll be fine. The way they move the ball around is great, so it makes coming away with something even more pleasurable.”
When the going’s good at Rangers, Davies considers Ibrox to be unrivalled in terms of passionate support. But when it’s bad…
“In my opinion the atmosphere’s better than Celtic Park,” he said. “They can get on their backs but they can be really supportive as well, as you saw when they scored the goal and we thought, ‘Oh God here we go, the last 15 minutes are going to be tough’.”
The trouble was, they were not tough enough on County for the Rangers fans’ liking.
Davies lamented Ross County’s failure to take more than one opportunity in the first 45 minutes. Schalk scored with a fine finish after 18 minutes but wasted two other chances, including one after a mix-up involving Rangers goalkeeper Wes Foderingham and teammate Clint Hill that really tested the home support’s tolerance levels.
“If you’re on the front foot and you nick the ball you’ve got a chance,” said Davies. “Even Alex Schalk’s chance – you’ve got to punish them when that happens. If you don’t, they’ll punish you.”
But the punishment meted out did not go nearly far enough to appease the Rangers supporters. An equaliser, scored by Wallace after good work between him and Jon Toral on the left flank, did not form the first step to all three points. Rangers huffed and puffed but displayed little cutting edge.
When they did get near to Ross County’s goal, they found goalkeeper Scott Fox in inspired form. It perhaps summed things up that Davies himself came nearest to scoring for Rangers when chesting a James Tavernier cross goalwards. Fox was the equal to it, tipping Davies’ inadvertent effort over the bar.
“I didn’t want to handball it and it’s come off my chest and he’s made a reaction save,” said Davies. It was a sign of how desperate Rangers fans were getting that there were loud penalty appeals when the defender made his intervention.
In view of the perhaps unhelpful tension in the stands, it might suit Rangers that their next two league games after hosting Morton in the Scottish Cup this weekend are away at Dundee and Inverness. Midfielder Jason Holt, however, disagrees playing at home is becoming a problem for the team.
“With the size of Rangers, the expectation is there and Rangers as a club need to rise to that,” he said. “We need to go and show on the pitch what we are capable of.
“It’s up to the players to step up to the mark and do what’s required for us. I think every player is well equipped to come and play at this club. The expectation levels are high and quite rightly so. So it’s down to us as players to cope with it.”