Rangers find Little relief down in depths of Third Division
Peterhead 2 Rangers 2: Inauspicious start for McCoist's team as they begin long march back
Sunday 12 August 2012
This was not the way Rangers expected to begin their rehabilitation. The club, and their fans, have embraced the challenge of starting in Scotland's bottom tier, of restoring their pride and their self-esteem along the way, but there was a brief exposure here to the disillusionment that they have become vulnerable to. Only a scrambled goal, 20 seconds from full time from Andrew Little, rescued them from a moment of infamy.
Rangers had been welcomed to Peterhead and the Third Division by a banner draped across a roundabout on the road up from Aberdeen to this small town. Some houses had Union flags and Rangers pennants hanging from windows, but this was still an unaccustomed occasion for the Ibrox side.
The players could not use the hotel the club wanted to book after the journey up on Friday because it was hosting a wedding; supporters' buses making the journey north from Glasgow had to leave at 6.30am. The inconveniences will have to be borne, but on this opening game of the league season, when the route back to the top flight would never seem more invigorating and uplifting, they could be relished as a novelty.
Rangers travelled to this fishing port – which houses a maximum-security prison and a football team made up of part-time players who are mostly employed in the oil and gas industry – seeking to assert themselves, to declare that despite the drop into the Third Division, the summer of turmoil, the financial crisis of administration, something instinctive could still be salvaged: the club's sense of identity.
There could be no feeling of indignity when the financial problems were self-inflicted and the obligation now is for the team to earn their way back up the leagues.
This was Rangers' first match in the Third Division, and inside Balmoor Stadium, where two small stands house 1,000 seats, with the rest of the ground being terracing, the tops of the ships and cranes in the harbour could be seen in the distance. The average attendance here last season was 490; yesterday more than 4,400 fans were crammed in.
Most were following Rangers, and they rapped their hands against the wooden advertising hoardings throughout the game, creating an echoing background noise. If ever there was a stark illustration of Rangers' plight it was this weekend, with their old rivals Celtic playing Real Madrid in a friendly in Philadelphia, having been drawn against Helsingborg in the Champions' League play-offs. However, Rangers' mood remained defiant and rousing.
The police had been worried about the number of supporters who might turn up without tickets, but as the fans gathered outside, mingling together and treating the occasion as something to savour, the spirit was buoyant. Inside, corporate guests were led out to their seats in the main stand by a man in full Highland dress playing a bagpipe.
The quirks seem endless, and will undoubtedly continue to do so this season. For instance, journalists from publications in France and New York were unable to get press passes for the game because space was so limited.
The result of the match itself was expected to be straightforward. The Rangers line-up contained eight internationals, and bookmakers had massively reduced the odds on the Ibrox side going through the entire season unbeaten. But yesterday's match became an endurance event for the Glasgow giants. Little, the Rangers midfielder, sent one shot deep into the line of trees behind one of the goals, and twice in the second half Rangers players sent efforts high over the fans behind the other goal and out of the ground.
Rangers took the lead through Barrie McKay, a sprightly, skilful 17-year-old, but then conceded twice to Rory McAllister and Scott McLaughlin in a second half that began with a series of aggressive fouls by a home side who had been urged by their manager, Jim McInally, to impose themselves. The Rangers manager, Ally McCoist was equally forthright. "I told the players afterwards that if any of them thought for a minute that they could turn up for any of these games and pick up three points without earning them, that might just be a rude awakening," he said. After the match, McCoist was ferried to a lounge where guests had been sold tickets on the basis they could speak to the Rangers manager. He made his way past well-wishers with a ready smile.
Peterhead (4-4-2):Jarvie; Sharp, Ross, Strachan, McDonald; Noble, Redman, Cowie, McLaughlin; McAllister (Maguire, 82), Winters (Bavidge, 59).
Rangers (3-4-3): Alexander; Broadfoot, Goian, Bocanegra; Little, Black, McLeod (Kyle, 82), Wallace; Shiels, McCulloch, McKay (Sandaza, 63).
Referee Stephen Finnie.
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