A commanding lead at the top of the Irn-Bru Third Division has become an affront to Rangers.
The club has reacted in indignation at the thought of winning the championship only to then find themselves playing the same teams again next season due to league reconstruction. "I hope they have a rethink," said Kyle Hutton, the Rangers midfielder, plaintively.
He is entitled to his frustration, as are the Rangers fans, since the experiences of this campaign were welcomed in part because they were considered a one-off. There has always been a novelty to trips to the likes of Annan Athletic, East Stirlingshire and Elgin City. Even the early struggles in away games could be accepted as part of the journey the club was making. Plans for a 12-12-18 set-up would leave Rangers still only two more promotions from the top flight, the same as if there was no reconstruction, but the discomfort with the proposals is understandable.
"Hopefully they make slight changes so we can move up a league," Hutton said. "It would be irritating for us that we've had to come through all this and we'd have to go through it all again, playing the same teams."
The disillusionment is evident, but then no form of league reconstruction would see Rangers play in the second tier unless promoted teams are allowed to go up a division in the reconstructed set-up. By simply moving teams around in their final league standings, the 16-10-16 plan that Rangers and other SFL clubs voted in favour of, and the 14-14-14 structure that Ally McCoist prefers, would still leave the Ibrox club in the third tier.
In 1994, Stranraer finished top of the second division – the bottom tier – just as three leagues of 10 were about to be introduced. Rather than play in the new third tier the next season, though, they were moved up into the second tier – the new first division – effectively leap-frogging five other teams. But this is a matter for the clubs to decide themselves, so there is no precedent, only current opinion.
"It's the same for fans and I feel for them," said Hutton. "But we can't let what's going on affect us too much. It was exciting to hear of Charles Green [Rangers' chief executive] talking about the prospect of moving to a league outside Scotland but I'm not sure what the realistic chances are of that happening."
The issue was relevant at Ibrox on Saturday because Rangers increased their lead at the top of the third division to 19 points with a win over Berwick Rangers, although second-place Queen's Park have two games in hand. The home side could be satisfied with most of their afternoon's work, even if Fran Sandaza combined some intricate and deceptive ball control and technique with some hapless finishing, and the defence was customarily error-prone.
Despite the players being reminded before kick-off that 83% of the goals conceded this season have come from set-pieces, Rangers lost two goals from inswinging corners. Ross Perry did not clear the first convincingly, allowing Ross Gray to score, then Andy Little failed to defend the front post area, with Fraser McLaren adding another .
Rangers had been three goals in front, through Little's double and a David Templeton volley, but it took Little completing his hat trick, soon after the lead was reduced to 3-2, to restore the Ibrox side's authority. Mostly, though, the game was memorable for Sandaza's footwork and his inaccuracy in front of goal. "He made a nuisance of himself and brought others into play but he just needs a goal to get off and running," Hutton said.