Just before half-time, a supporter in the main stand shouted at Kevin Turner, the East Stirlingshire midfielder.
"You leave Ian Black alone No.9," the fan said in a mocking rebuke. Turner glanced over with a wry smile. Early in the game, he had caught Black in the face with a late, heavy challenge using his shoulder or forearm, and the players had sniped at each other from then on. In every way, league games remain a stern test of Rangers' ability to cope with their circumstances.
Turner caught Black twice again in the second-half with late, niggling challenges. The game had never really been within East Stirlingshire's reach, so the tension between the pair became a compelling narrative in itself. Black's only reactions were to upbraid Turner and plead for some protection from the officials, which was striking enough for a player who has behaved less rationally in the past. Turner was never specifically spoken to, let alone booked.
"I am going to have to deal with it but I wouldn't mind if the linesman would help out the referee from time to time," Black said. "If they watched some of that on the television, some of the challenges I got, they would be losing a few marks on their performances. I just kept calm and played my game. It's very hard [not to react] but I'm an experienced pro now and I've got to control it, direct it towards my game. I know that sometimes I can dish it out but the off the ball stuff is cowardly. I've got the wounds to go with it, but I'm big enough to deal with it."
Black feels his reputation would have led to him being at least booked for making some of the challenges he suffered, but then that is down to his past misdemeanours. East Stirlingshire did not set out to be overly aggressive, but there is little point in the Ibrox side expecting not to be physically intimidated. The referee, George Salmond, reacted immediately to a high boot from Philipp Zufle, whose studs caught Kevin Kyle high on the leg, by sending off the young German midfielder. Dean Shiels left the pitch in the second half nursing a sore leg. The emphatic victory was also a form of endurance.
"I wouldn't say it's cowardly," said East Stirlingshire striker Paul Quinn. "It's part and parcel of the game. Ian Black maybe does get a bit more treatment than most – maybe because he has a reputation for dishing it out. But I would never go out to leave a foot in to hurt someone. They have good players and move the ball really quickly – it's going to happen at this level that they get caught late."
This game became a routine affair for Rangers, but that represents progress for a side that once found away matches only revealed their shortcomings. Thanks to Lee McCulloch's penalty and a deflected Andy Little strike, the visitors had a two-goal, and one-man, advantage when Turner scored a header just before half-time. Lee Wallace added a third just after the break and when Quinn then scored from the spot, Rangers simply maintained their tempo to rack up a glaring advantage.
Cameos provided the moments of distinction, since Ally McCoist grumbled afterwards about the slack defending that cost his side two goals. He never seemed wholly satisfied with his team's display throughout the game, and the scoreline reflected individual aplomb rather than an overall accomplishment. Rangers dominated through sheer, grinding purpose.
Barrie McKay delivered flourishes, which tended to be significant. He created Rangers' fifth goal for Kal Naismith, and won the penalty for the final goal, flicking the ball over Steven Jackson, and the East Stirlingshire defender handled it. McCulloch again scored from the spot.
The game was notable, too, for Kyle, whose touch was sometimes clumsy but whose endeavour never waned. He scored Rangers' fourth, turning the ball in from close range, his first goal in almost two years due to injury.