Playing a league game in Dingwall for the first time, Rangers couldn’t quite seize history – and second place in the Premiership – against a spirited Ross County.
The Staggies couldn’t quite win the game and move off the bottom of the league but manager Jim McIntyre will have been greatly encouraged by this gutsy showing.
While Rangers took the lead and created other openings in the first half, County battled back and, with ex-Rangers winger Chris Burke to the fore, blitzed Mark Warburton’s side in a hectic finale and were well worth their point.
Before the match, Warburton had stressed that playing European football next season was virtually a financial necessity for the club. To guarantee that, though, they’ll have to cope better with challenges like this one in the Highlands. This was the seventh occasion in 12 games they’ve dropped points.
The last time Rangers came to Dingwall was in the League Cup – November 2001 – and Shota Arveladze and Claudio Reyna scored the goals that won the tie, despite Lorenzo Amoruso being sent off. Changed days.
Nine months previously, a Scottish Cup encounter at the home of the Staggies proved an even more stark contrast when £12 million Tore Andre Flo scored a double in the victory.
Yesterday, for goals they were depending on Joe Garner, a £1.8m purchase from Preston North End, and the ageless, evergreen Kenny Miller.
County were trying to arrest a miserable run: nine games without a win which had seen them plummet. Though that sequence did include a plucky 0-0 draw at Ibrox, a repeat of which yesterday would have offered some hope going into winter.
The Highlanders, indeed, were striving for only their third league victory since lifting the League Cup back in March. Since then they’ve added Burke, who produced the first moment of note, a wiggling run from the right flank.
But in the eighth minute Rangers took the lead. Jay McEveley seemed to have the ball under control but got his feet in a tangle and conceded a needless corner. Josh Windass’ kick found Clint Hill, who powered a header into the left-hand corner of Scott Fox’s net.
McElevey almost made amends right away but his header from a corner was blocked on the line. County huffed and puffed but the Ibrox men were dangerous on the break. In the 16th minute, Lee Wallace charged forward and Rangers were four on two. The full-black almost had too many options, chose Miller but the latter’s shot was blocked.
Rangers were comfortable but, twice in quick succession, slovenliness by Wes Foderingham almost presented the Staggies with chances. At the very least the Rangers keeper was giving them some encouragement but the Ibrox men were quickly back on the attack and Garner should have scored from an Andy Halliday pass but his shot lacked direction and conviction.
Warburton’s team would curse that fluffed chance because, in the 26th minute, County drew level. Ryan Dow made progress down the left and forced a corner. Burke floated it to the far post and Andrew Davies, rather like Hill, was untroubled when presented with the opportunity and just as accurate as the Rangers man at finding the net with his header.
After that, Rangers’ best chance of regaining the lead looked like it would come from a Windass surge down the right. Garner couldn’t quite stretch for one of his deliveries, while the next one was beaten away by Fox. But Burke was proving just as threatening for the Staggies and he repeated his first-minute move, this time getting his shot away but it flew narrowly wide.
A slip by Dow let in James Tavernier but Miller, rather than dummying, should have taken on the shot. Then the Rangers full-back was involved in controversy on the half-time whistle when Foderingham was forced to handle his too-short pass-back but Rangers got away with it.
It had turned into a good, open game, with the goal-chances ratio aided by some defensive clodhopping, and continued in that vein after the break with first Liam Boyce and then Miller having efforts blocked.
Rangers made a change on the hour, with the disappointing Garner being replaced by Martyn Waghorn and Miller giving way to Barrie McKay. Warburton’s men won a succession of corners as the bright winter sun proved uncomfortable for Fox and his defenders and, from one of them, Jason Holt tumbled in a challenge by Marcus Fraser but referee Andrew Dallas judged that he’d dived and booked the midfielder.
Unfortunately, after the promise shown in its middle part, the game then got scrappy. A spate of bookings kept Dallas busy, the most cynical of them being when Chris Routis hauled down Windass as the Ibrox man sprinted threateningly through the middle. Windass had been the brightest of Rangers’ forward players but McKay, with a lot less minutes with which to express himself, was doing his best to spark something on the left.
County had had fewer opportunities as the game entered its final phase but, with five minutes remaining, Tim Chow was afforded a clear sight of goal. The Staggies definitely fancied they could grab all three points and an even better chance came Boyce’s way after substitute Alex Schalk set him up on the edge of the box. He elected to it hit it first time with the shot squirted past a post.
County tried again. Tony Dingwall had two efforts blocked and, from the rebound, Burke headed over. Marcus Fraser crossed and Schalk, who’d made a great intervention from the bench, shot just wide.
Rangers were hanging on but a rare foray forward presented Tavernier with a gilt-edged chance. These were the kind of openings he gobbled up last season only this time he shot wide. In added-on time, Schalk shot from 20 yards and Foderingham’s weird scooped save somehow kept the ball out.