This was progress for Rangers, even if their manager felt inclined to dwell on the troubling moments.

Montrose's spirited endeavour often caused the visitors problems. It did not seem reckless, for example, when goalkeeper Sandy Wood charged upfield for a late corner kick. Montrose were chasing the game, and had sensed Rangers' vulnerability.

Ally McCoist admitted that at times his side were "all over the place". The defence conceded too much space and too many opportunities. There were mitigating factors, since the surface of the artificial pitch was treacherous, causing the players to be unsure of their footing and the ball to skid out of control, but Montrose scored two well-executed goals, and struck the bar and the post in the second half.

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"There were scary moments for us," said Barrie McKay, who made his mark for Rangers as a substitute. "Luckily enough, we got the extra goal to calm everything down for us. There is a big difference [with the plastic pitch], it was really slidey so if you played a pass it would zoom away. You had to be really accurate."

Montrose were entitled to feel frustrated. It was only a strike deep into injury time by another substitute, Robbie Crawford, that made the scoreline seem emphatic in Rangers' favour, so both teams could lay claim to a sense of achievement.

"We were undefeated in eight games and went into this match believing we could get something," said Scott Johnston, the Montrose midfielder who hit the upright with a shot. "We would have settled for a point. With the one that hit the post, I thought it was in, but I caught it too sweetly. If I'd shanked it - but even then, when it bounced off the post, it just misses one of the other boys for a tap-in. That was our luck."

If Montrose could acknowledge that their own form remains impressive, the optimistic view for Rangers was that this was the kind of assignment and circumstances that led to disappointing results away from home earlier in the season. Since losing at Stirling Albion last October – the team's only defeat in the league so far – McCoist's side have won eight consecutive Irn-Bru Third Division matches. There will always be aspects of a performance that rankle with the manager, but the continuing assurance of Lewis MacLeod, the penetration of which David Templeton is capable, the inventiveness of Dean Shiels, and even the momentum provided by McKay's display were all evident.

"It was good [to] come on and make an impact," McKay said. "Hopefully it gives me a better chance to start the next game. I started last weekend against Stirling. It was [disappointing to be on the bench], but I'm not going to play every game. The manager said that if I do go on, I should just show what I can do."

McKay played a decisive role in Rangers' third, crossing for Shiels to convert. Kevin Kyle's industry got him on the scoresheet, after more good work by Shiels, while Lee McCulloch scored the visitors' first from the penalty spot. That goal was crucial, since Montrose had opened the scoring through Lloyd Young, and they sensed an opportunity to take something from the game when David Gray struck with his first touch of the ball after coming on as a substitute to make the scoreline 3-2.

"We were all fired up for it," said Johnston, who is a civil engineer. "They don't get any time on the ball and we tried to put them under pressure. They're expected to come out and waltz it, but they don't like it when you get in to their faces."

Yet Rangers managed to face down this particular test of character.