On his last visit to Forthbank, Ian Black left the field with a torn jersey and stud marks on his chest.
Some opponents have sought to be uncompromising against Rangers this season and individuals have tended to be drawn towards Black, a midfielder with a reputation himself for being occasionally cold-hearted in his tackling. But the occasion left a deeper psychological scar; in losing to the team at the bottom of the third division, Rangers found themselves confronted with a grim reminder that another chastening moment is always lying in wait.
It turned out to be a turning point. Rangers won 11 consecutive league games after the defeat by Stirling and have not lost a third division encounter in 18 matches since that game last October. Although at times they have been hesitant and lacking assertiveness, Rangers have found the means to deliver the results and consistency that was expected of them in the bottom tier.
Ally McCoist has deliberately not calculated when the title might be won and he was mindful of respecting the other teams in the division by not answering how he and his players might celebrate the championship, given that the club is accustomed to chasing loftier prizes. The lessons of that Stirling defeat, the need to adapt to the surroundings and for his team to impose themselves more readily, were learned, but so, too, is the understanding that old standards need to be maintained.
"It's just important that we keep winning games, to go on and win the league, which is what we all want," McCoist said. "It's what's required at a club like this; no matter who you're playing or when you're playing them, you have to win. With the greatest respect to a lot of the boys who have been in the team this year, it's new to them. So we need to get that winning mentality about us."
McCoist refers to the defeat at Forthbank as his team's poorest display of the season. It had to be overcome, and in a sense Black, too, has had to come to terms with his own prominence. A player whose own challenges have made plenty of opponents wince can expect little sympathy but his mentality has had to harden. He has griped at times about the lack of protection from referees, but mostly he has dealt with his reputation for being an antagonist and the physical attention and scrutiny that brings.
The midfielder is never likely to be considered misunderstood, but he is more contemplative and less spiky off the field.
"People always say that I dish it out," Black said. "If the ball is there to be won, I am going to try to win the ball. I don't go in half-hearted because you always hurt yourself. I don't like people who are cowards who try to kick you from behind or side on – if they are going to have a tackle, you come in square on. Fair enough that [Stirling] boy did that, but it was a head-high tackle. It ripped the strip from my chest right down, but I got up and tried to carry on. I can deal with it and I just laugh at all these people who have columns in papers who criticise me and say I moan; all I do is just get on with it."
A compact and combative figure, Black's qualities are evident in the hustle of midfield. He would prefer if other aspects of his game were more widely appreciated but a reputation is difficult to alter once it has become so publicly accepted. There is little room for subtlety when so much of his time is spent haring around the pitch, and his tendency to dwell on the ball or only move it into safe areas hindered Rangers' tempo earlier in the season, but he has settled into a more constructive role now.
"It's a battle," he said. "Games are won and lost in the middle of the park and you've got to be physical. I don't want to go about kicking folk and getting a bad name, but if people want to have a go they can have a go. But when people get to know me they realise I'm a totally different person to the one they thought. Off the field, I like a bit of fishing. People may laugh but when I was at Inverness I used to go fishing two or three times a week. I'd go there and sit, just myself and a mate, and we wouldn't say a word for three or four hours. I like a game of golf, a bit of fishing or taking the dogs for a walk. That's my life off the field. I'm very quiet."
Black expects another bruising encounter at Forthbank this evening, but the team's mood and form is less fragile now. There is an incentive, too, in trying to wrap up the title as soon as possible, but also in trying to re-assert Rangers' competitive standards. "Oh, we've got a grudge," said Black, "because they beat us and we've got a point to prove. We're going out to show them who we are."