At the end, Rangers were left only with a sense of their own downfall. This first league defeat of the season, against a part-time team that was bottom of the third division and without a win of their own in five games, reduced the Ibrox side to nothing but discontent. "I'm not embarrassed," said the Rangers manager, Ally McCoist, "I'm just bitterly disappointed."
Yet this was a stark exposure of all of the team's fallibilities. They lost an early goal and then laboured throughout, as if still perplexed by their circumstances. At this small, humble ground, with two modest stands and two narrow terraces behind the goals, the Rangers fans began to stream out before the end. Like their team, the supporters were lost in their own discontent.
There is little that is conventional to Rangers now, not when so many of their old certainties were cast aside during the upheavals of the summer. Even so, they could never imagine again facing opponents in a league match whose manager missed the game to get married.
Greig McDonald had arranged the wedding before he found himself replacing Jocky Scott as the Stirling manager, and one of his two assistants, Shaun Fagan, took the team yesterday. The other assistant, Marc McCulloch, lined up in midfield, and played his part by clearing a Lee McCulloch header off the line during the second half.
These quirks were incidental to McCoist, since his team immediately revealed the calamitous nature that has undermined so much of their work away from home this season.
When Stirling won a corner just eight minutes into the game, it was a humdrum delivery but Rangers still could not cope. The loose ball landed at the feet of Brian Allison, and the centre-back coolly clipped it into the back of the net.
It was a situation that was grimly familiar to the Rangers players, though. There had not even been time for the nature of the game to frustrate them, but the congestion in the centre of the pitch, the brutal aggression of so much
of the play,
and the futility of the players' efforts soon became recognisable.
"It was never going to be pretty from us," said Fagan. "We dug in and did everything we could. We never play for a draw."
Holding on to the lead spared Stirling from any obligation to commit themselves to attack, and they became entrenched, while Rangers passed the ball around with little purpose.
However, a more direct approach offered greater hope, and from one Fraser Aird cross Lee McCulloch sent a header off the upright, but there was little sense of pressure building from the visitors.
"It's a sore one," said McCoist, "but we'll bounce back."
Stirling (4-4-2): Filler (Peat, 46); McClune, Thom, Allison, McAnespie; G Weir, McSorley (Day, 59), McCulloch, Ferry; White, S Weir (Flood, 89).
Rangers (4-2-3-1): Alexander; Faure, Perry, Emilson, Wallace; MacLeod, Black (Naismith, 85); Argyriou (McKay, 67), Shiels, Aird (Kyle, 71); McCulloch.
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