There was cause for Rangers to value this display, but even that could not subdue the sense of relief.
At times, the Ibrox side was hapless in defence, and only a counter-attack in the closing minute that ended with Robbie Crawford scoring a fourth from inside the penalty area allowed them to feel certain that this victory had been accomplished.
"This was a game we might not have won three weeks into the season," admitted Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager. He could feel satisfied with his team's attacking edge, but old faults re-asserted themselves. "Our defending was all over the place at times but we got away with it," he added. "We need to see games out, and defend, better."
Loading article content
There was enough local interest in the visit of Rangers for people to watch from the bedroom windows of houses overlooking Links Park. Any sense of novelty must have worn off for the visiting players, since small grounds, cramped conditions and workmanlike concerns have become commonplace this season. The Rangers squad can still be caught unawares, though.
Montrose were comfortably overcome when the teams met at Ibrox earlier in the season, but the home side's sprightly ambition at the outset of this game was enough to addle Rangers. That, in turn, caused their opponents to be hesitant. Anestis Argyriou was wayward with a short pass infield, allowing the home side to break forward. The attack led to a throw-in, which Stephen McNally delivered into the penalty area. Lloyd Young's instincts were sharp enough to carry him in front of his marker and steer a first-time shot beyond Neil Alexander's reach.
Montrose were just as capable as Rangers of being lax, though. Sandy Wood had to move briskly off his line to block Andy Little's shot, and even when the goalkeeper was not so quick on his feet, Rangers were still foiled, since Lewis MacLeod's free-kick carried right through the penalty area and bounced off the upright.
The home side might have felt emboldened by their good fortune, but it was fleeting. David Templeton was agile enough to slip in front of McNally with the ball, and the Montrose full-back bundled him to the ground inside the penalty area. Lee McCulloch swept in the spot kick to restore an air of assurance to Rangers.
Serenity was not possible for either side, though. Wood had to save smartly from Little, while Alexander blocked Young's drive. The interval offered respite, but it did not diminish the game's unpredictable nature.
Chances were squandered by both sides, not least a free header at the back post that Little meekly steered wide. The miss could have disheartened Rangers, but they were decisive when another opportunity fell to them. Dean Shiels' run was blocked, but the ball ran through to Kevin Kyle, who placed a shot into the net.
Montrose were stung by a sense of regret, since they had held their own, but the urgency to equalise left them vulnerable. After they pushed upfield for a corner, they were exposed when Barrie McKay surged forward on the counter-attack before sliding a pass to Shiels, who clipped a shot over Sandy Wood.
The move was swift and decisive, but the self-congratulation was just as abruptly over. Montrose were not quelled and the substitute David Gray was immediately effective, his first touch after coming on deftly curling the ball with the outside of his right foot past Alexander. The home side was gripped by ambition, and Gary Wood hit the bar before another substitute, Scott Johnstone, saw his shot strike the post.
"We deserved something from the game," said Garden. "We didn't get the rub of the green, but Rangers will have realised they were in a hard game."