ANALYSIS Rangers' win proves to be all in the training ground preparation
An ESPN television crew arrived in Glasgow on Friday to spend a week filming a documentary about Rangers. The content will be based around the club's supporters, since the commitment that led to almost 49,000 filling Ibrox for a routine Irn-Bru Third Division match has become newsworthy outside Scotland. The broadcasters interviewed Charles Green and Sandy Jardine on Saturday morning, and will spend this week talking to supporters, journalists, and even David Longmuir, chief executive of the Scottish Football League. Mostly, though, they are trying to understand the phenomenon that causes so many people to join in Ibrox's Saturday pageantry.
The visit of Peterhead ought to have been a humdrum occasion but as it was Remembrance Weekend there was a card display that covered two-thirds of the stadium, an artillery gun marking the beginning and end of the minute's silence, two soldiers abseiling off the Govan Stand, and service personnel flooding the pitch at half-time.
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Yet on another weekend, even without the significance of the date, Ibrox would still have been almost full. After the traumas of Rangers' financial crisis, then the uncertainty over the club's future during the summer, there is now a sense of rejuvenation.
It has been hesitant at times, not least during away matches when the team has performed poorly, almost sullenly, and Ally McCoist must still be frustrated by failure to sign all of the players that he wanted during the transfer window, but the supporters' faith has survived these setbacks.
"It's fine playing Rangers at Balmoor," said Jim McInally, whose Peterhead side drew 0-0 with Rangers at home to open their season. "To play in front of a full house at Ibrox is a massive difference."
Rangers are still capable of moments of ragged play, and McCoist was furious with examples of slackness or his players not moving the ball forward sharply, but the mood is still one of optimism.
Investor roadshows will begin this week, as the club prepares to launch on the Alternative Investment Market, and there is a quiet confidence among the directors that the share issue will be a success.
Investors will make cold-hearted financial decisions, but if Rangers are to thrive as a business, it will be based on the same effect that brought the television crew to Glasgow: the sense of allegiance which has led to Rangers crowds growing in the bottom tier of Scottish football.
The team continues to make slow progress, but the conviction that they would prevail on Saturday survived some pedestrian moments, and Rory McAllister hitting the bar early on from close range. "It was a sitter but I sclaffed the shot," McAllister said. "It was a bad miss. It was tough going for us. Rangers had a lot of the ball and kept it well."
McCoist described his team's display as "solid and efficient", but was lifted by the execution of two practised set-pieces; Lee McCulloch scoring with a header from Barrie McKay's corner after Chris Hegarty's run in the penalty area created space for his central defensive partner, and Lee Wallace finishing from Ian Black's pulled-back free-kick in the second half.
There were familiar themes for McCoist: Wallace was imposing on the left, Lewis MacLeod continues to develop into a fine midfielder, Dean Shiels is his most creative figure, and McCulloch will command any area of the team. He lined up alongside Hegarty at the back as Ross Perry and Emilson Cribari were injured in training, and the pair formed a good partnership. McCoist could grumble about Andy Little's off-day, McKay being on the periphery, and Robbie Crawford being tentative on the right flank, but these are growing pains.
"One of the positives to come out of the negative situation is that we get to see the younger lads who have come through Murray Park," said the Rangers manager. "They're all learning. Wallace, [Ian] Black, [Neil] Alexander, Shiels and McCulloch are important men for us as the younger boys need a guiding hand."
Fraser Aird, who came on as a substitute, described McCulloch as "like a dad". The comment will make the Ran gers captain feel old, but the sense of responsibility was evident in the way he helped Hegarty through this game and marshalled the players in front of him. This was not Rangers' best performance, but their pursuit of the title will depend on them being reliable at least.