Late in the game, while the scoreline was still tentatively within Rangers' control, the home fans patiently unfurled a giant banner in the Broomloan Stand.

It read: "Carry our noise with the badge on your breast. Give them hell at Tannadice".

What was meant to encourage players who face Dundee United in the William Hill Scottish Cup on Saturday with little or no backing due to a boycott seemed only wistful when the Montrose players were celebrating a point with their small band of fans after the final whistle. By then, the home side were being booed off before the visitors were applauded from the field.

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What the play had most clearly generated was a sense of consternation among the Ibrox support. Another performance like this and the majority of Rangers fans will be relieved that they chose not to travel to Tannadice, even if that decision was taken out of principle rather than concern.

A cup tie against United ought to raise players from the troughs of their form, although the lack of away fans will make the occasion seem more hostile. All the same, Rangers need more than a surge of competitive spirit. The decision-making throughout the team was flawed, the tempo too pedestrian to generate significant momentum. David Templeton was enduring an afternoon when his intentions and his actions were estranged, while Andy Little appeared laboured on the right. As a consequence, too much of Rangers' attacking play involved trying to pick their way through the centre of Montrose's defence.

In Fran Sandaza and Dean Shiels, though, the attack consisted of players who tend to wander from the most dangerous areas. "We're still creating chances but we are not putting them away," said Lee Wallace, the Rangers defender. "Our finishing needs to improve and we need to become more ruthless in front of goal."

It would have been galling for the Rangers players to hear John Crawford reveal that the highest wage in the Montrose dressing room is £150 a week, with a £25 appearance fee. A product of Aberdeen's youth academy, the defender trained with Partick Thistle after being released, but found a job with a mechanical engineering company – "I make big drills for the oil . . . and pipes" – and turned his back on full-time football.

The 22-year-old was part of a sterling defensive effort, but this game was still a condemnation for Rangers. Ian Black struck the post twice in the second-half, but mostly the manager scowled as he agitated around the technical area, driven to exasperation by the poor quality of his players' finishing and final ball. "They lacked a bit of urgency," said Crawford. "They didn't have as much going forward as Rangers supporters would like."

The goals were a stark contrast, since Alan Campbell diverted a Templeton cross beyond his own goalkeeper just before half-time, then David Gray struck a ferocious effort from 30 yards that flew beyond Neil Alexander and into the net off the underside of the bar in the 90th minute. With Lewis MacLeod stretchered off with a knee injury in the first-half, Rangers lacked dynamism in midfield, which would also be punished at Tannadice.

"I'm pretty sure that everyone will be writing us off, so it is up to us to try to prove everyone wrong," said Wallace. "We will be solely focused on what happens on the pitch because we need to bounce back"

There was a poignant moment, when a piper's lament silenced the crowd in the 54th minute in memory of Robert Learmonth, the Rangers fan who passed away during the recent game against Berwick. In truth, the home fans impressed more than the team. "I've never been clapped off the park," said Crawford. "I had a draw with Aberdeen here, but I don't expect them to clap Aberdeen off."