Rangers continue to find the Third Division a chastening experience. They have yet to win a match away from home, and more frustration was accumulated at Galabank. The surroundings were unassuming, and the visitors performed as though keen to fit in. Every journey this season is proving to be a reminder of the extent of the club's fall from grace.
The interest in the plight of Rangers is relentless. Annan Athletic had to make arrangements to accommodate television crews from France and Germany yesterday. The novelty of that kind of coverage is uplifting for a club of such a modest background. It was only in 2008 that Annan were admitted to the Scottish Football League, and their facilities are only marginally upgraded from those of junior or non-League clubs.
Improvements are made at an affordable pace. A £750,000 artificial pitch was laid during the summer, which allows the stadium to be of greater use to the local community. The main stand still only seats 500 people, and this was the closest the club have come to the entire stadium being sold out. Apart from the vote to admit them four years ago – after Gretna, another club from the Scottish Borders, went out of business – Scottish football has essentially paid little attention to Annan.
The arrival of Rangers in the Third Division has disrupted the old routine. No aspect of life is untouched, and Harry Cariney, the Annan manager, was reminded all week by his pupils of the impending visit of Rangers. He is a full-time physics teacher at a Glasgow secondary school. Mostly, the children he teaches would pay little heed of events in Scottish football's bottom flight, even if their teacher is a central character.
Rangers have been cast adrift from their usual competitive environment, but old rivalries persist. Two of the Annan players – the striker Michael Daly and the defender Michael McGowan – have been sponsored by a Celtic supporters' website, while a third – Greig Thorburn, another defender – has been sponsored by an Aberdeen supporters' group.
Fans will always find the means to express their resentments, even if most SPL supporters act as though the absence of Rangers is a welcome development. The boon, though, is for the Third Division clubs, who receive a financial windfall from every visit. Rangers fans consider it an adventure, and tickets are seldom available. One Ibrox supporter, who lives in Dumfries, bought a season ticket for Galabank just to ensure that he would be able to attend the ground on both of Rangers' visits this season. That kind of commitment has been vital to Rangers' sense of esteem. The surroundings at most of the away grounds are cramped – Galabank has one of the tightest pitches in Scotland and many of the facilities were housed in Portakabins – and the games have been a trial. The opponents are part-time, but the visit of Rangers raises the level of performance beyond the usual grind. Anybody can be disconcerted, and when David Templeton, the Rangers winger, left the field injured after just eight minutes, the stadium announcer described him as an Annan player. "And you're a bluenose too," chided one of the local stewards.
The surroundings are so intimate that every moment is shared. After Neil Alexander, the Rangers goalkeeper, had to tidy up some careless defending, some away fans behind the goal began to gripe about his team-mates. Alexander could only nod grimly and say, "Would any of you like a game?"
Fans were generally irked because the game lacked any kind of drama and the home side were mainly content with restricting their opponents. The effort wasn't as taxing as it might have been, since Rangers were unable to overwhelm their hosts.
Moments of accomplishment were still required, though, and Alex Mitchell, the Annan goalkeeper, who is training to be a PE teacher, had to hurl himself to the right to tip a Lee McCulloch shot over the bar just before the final whistle.
"We're having a problem with away games," said Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager. "We're not matching the opponents' enthusiasm or pace."
Annan Athletic: Alex Mitchell; Blake, Peter Watson, Swinglehurst, McGowan, Steele (McKechnie, 87), Jardine, Chaplain, Ramage (Sloan, 78), Murray, Daly (McGachie, 68).
Rangers: Alexander; Faure, Perry, Emilson Cribari, Wallace, Templeton (Sandaza, 10), Black, McKay, Macleod, Shiels (Crawford 78), McCulloch.
The Great Divide
Capacity of Galabank Stadium: 3,000 (500 seated)
Pitch size: 110yards x 71 yards
Previous record attendance: 1,343 v Dumbarton, 9 May 9 2009
Top honour: South of Scotland League champions: 2
European honours: */a
Record transfer fee: */a
Capacity of Ibrox: 51,082
Pitch size: 115 yards x 75 yards
Record attendance: 118,567 v Celtic, 2 January 1939
Top honour: Scottish League champions: 54
European honours: Cup-Winners' Cup champions: 1
Record transfer fee: £12m, Tore Andre Flo, Chelsea, November 2000