STIRLING were up against it yesterday. They were bottom of the Irn-Bru Third Division. They had lost their five previous matches.
Their manager, Greig McDonald, was away getting married, and they lost their goalkeeper to injury at half-time.
Still, at least they were playing Rangers. An early goal by Brian Allison, and a classic, backs-to-the-wall defensive performance thereafter, inflicted on the Ibrox club their first league defeat of the season, and exacerbated an away record that was already woeful.
Rangers, who missed a chance to go top of the league, are still without a win on the road this season. This defeat, their first at the hands of Stirling Albion since 1953, was another mortifying setback for the Ibrox club, who have been plagued by them these last few months.
The excuse for their struggles on the road this season has been that they are not suited to the Third Division’s tumbledown, ramshackle venues. The pitches are too tight and bumpy. The dressing-rooms are too small. There is not enough space for their fans to outnumber the home support.
None of which applies to Forthbank Stadium, a thoroughly modern setting. The 3,800 seats were occupied mostly by Rangers fans. The local council ensured that the lush, green playing surface was it its best. And this, remember, was against a team whose only win since the opening league game of the season was in a cup tie against Dalbeattie Star.
Not that it enabled Rangers to avoid the kind of horrific start that has been such a feature of their season so far. Just as Elgin City and East Stirlingshire shocked the Ibrox club with an early goal, so did Stirling take the lead after only nine minutes. Kieran McAnespie headed Daly McSorley’s corner into the six-yard box, where Allison turned it past Neil Alexander, the Rangers goalkeeper.
There was no mistaking Stirling’s tactics. By half-time, three of their players has been booked. At every opportunity, they were in their opponents’ faces, sometimes literally. Steven Weir upset the visiting team when he lunged recklessly at a loose ball, but succeeded only in plunging his studs into Alexander’s body.
The Binos’ efforts earned them a couple of half chances to double their lead, the best of which Jordan White pulled wide but, in truth, the clearer opportunities were at the other end. Fraser Aird’s cross was glanced on to a post by Lee McCulloch, Anestis Argyrious shot wide, and Ian Black’s long-range effort was pushed away by the goalkeeper.
After the interval, Rangers completely dominated but couldn’t find a way through. Their opponents did all that was possible to get in the way, throwing bodies and legs at everything that moved on the edge of the penalty area. When a gap was penetrated and a shot fired at the home goal, there was a red shirt there as well.
Aird and Dean Shiels both had efforts saved by Mark Peat, a half-time replacement for Sam Filler, who could not see out of one eye after a clash with Lee McCulloch. When the ball did elude Peat, thanks to a header by Sebastien Faure, it was cleared off the line by Marc McCulloch.
It was growing desperate for Rangers, as Lee McCulloch showed by diving over Gary Thom’s challenge, an embarrassing effort that earned him a yellow card. Then, with 19 minutes left, Kevin Kyle was thrown on in place of Aird, who had been one of the visitors’ more creative players.
Rangers, though, were running out of ideas, and nearly went two down when White and Graham Weir combined to set up Steven Weir in the box. It was a clear chance, about seven yards out, but he fluffed it wide.
In the closing minutes, Peat smothered at the feet of Kyle, and blocked a header by Shiels, as Stirling held firm. Shaun Fagan, the club’s assistant coach, had a word for the manager, who could hardly have asked for a better wedding present.
“Hats off to the gaffer,” said Fagan. “He put everything in place today, and we just followed it through. It is a great feeling to beat Rangers, especially with such a young squad. Young Stephen Day is sitting in the dressing-room with his strip on. He doesn’t want to get changed.”
The Stirling fans chanted that McCoist would be sacked in the morning. An unlikely outcome, it has to be said, but you get the picture. The Rangers manager was asked if he felt under pressure. “Not any more than I would be for any game,” he replied. “I just feel frustrated. That is my overriding feeling. Frustration at not getting away victories in this division. But there is a determination to put it right and we will.”
Stirling Albion: Filler (Peat 45), McClune, Thom, Allison, McAnespie, G Weir, McSorley (Day 58), M McCulloch, Ferry, S Weir (Flood 88), White. Unused subs: McGeachie, Brass.
Rangers: Alexander, Faure, Perry, Cribari, Wallace Argyriou (McKay 66), Black (Naismith 85), MacLeod, Aird (Kyle 71), L McCulloch, Shiels. Unused subs: Crawford, Gallacher.
Referee: B Madden. Attendance: 3,751.