A RESULT to rank on the all-time list of Scottish Cup shocks, but a bit lower down the list than it might have been.
For more than an hour yesterday, Ibrox was in ferment, furious with a Rangers team flirting with the mother of all embarrassments. Actually, flirting is putting it far too mildly. They seemed hopelessly committed to it.
They were losing to little Albion Rovers, traditionally the butt of the jokes in Scottish football, thanks to an early goal scored by Ciaran Donnelly and the obdurate resistance of goalkeeper Neil Parry.
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Those two earn their living as a gas engineer and an HMRC worker respectively, and you can add your own punchline to that. Rovers are seventh in SPFL League 2, but Rangers couldn't put them away. Donnelly capitalised on some clumsy early defending, scored, and began to put Rangers into a tailspin which lasted until they bundled in an equaliser just 12 minutes from the end of the match.
At full-time there was relief but not much self-respect. Rovers had defended with that desperate heroism teams show in these circumstances, hurling themselves in front of the ball and repeatedly hacking it away, but also producing some terrific tackles and interceptions.
What more could be asked of them than to do themselves justice on their big day? They performed tremendously. They stood their ground so tirelessly that, by the end, they were dropping with cramp. Inevitably the headlines will be stolen by Rangers' failure, but this was a mighty effort from a gutsy group of players led by James Ward, a manager with charisma and belief. Albion's resistance earned them a replay at New Douglas Park a week tomorrow.
They earned a draw and treated it like a win, their players milking it in front of 1200 jubilant fans. The rest of the crowd reacted with varying degrees of anger about Rangers' jittery, flawed, poor display.
When Lee McCulloch headed a Rovers corner back across his own goalmouth and it was duly buried into the net by Donnelly, it was just about possible to see the colour draining out of the Rangers players' faces.
They responded by spending the rest of the day pounding away at Albion but it was laboured, unimpressive stuff. Far too often there didn't seem to be an idea beyond lumping a high ball to Jon Daly and seeing if anything came from it. Nothing did.
Daly was crowded and, when he did get a couple of headers away, he put one wide and the other into Parry's arms, albeit when offside. There was too little support for him from Dean Shiels, Nicky Law, Ian Black and Fraser Aird. Not until first-half stoppage time was there a real chance of a Rangers goal, when Shiels's firm shot brought a great save from Parry.
One genuine opening against Albion Rovers in 45 minutes at Ibrox? "This is disgraceful, McCoist" came one of the more polite shouts. How the stands booed when the half-time whistle sounded and the players retreated up the tunnel.
Albion's manager, Ward, actually spent the second half of the interval out on the pitch with his substitutes, smiling broadly. Savouring the moment was understandable and, besides, there wasn't much to say to his players beyond telling them to keep doing exactly what they had done so far.
Rovers were scrappy and untidy, of course they were, but what heart they played with and what tireless effort they gave from start to finish. Ross and Michael Dunlop, the centre-halves, got their heads to countless crosses. Donnelly and Scott Chaplain grafted constantly to close down space in front of their back four. Parry's hands were a magnet: poor crosses and shots simply came to him, and his positioning and handling were excellent.
Rangers didn't have ideas or quality. McCulloch spooned a shot wide. Black put another one into the goalkeeper's arms. When the ball broke to Daly in the penalty area and he whacked a hopeless shot across the goal and way wide into the Copland Road end, the venom erupted around the stands again.
Templeton continued his day of cutting inside to his right foot and hitting shots over the bar or past the far post. Eventually he came a bit closer, jabbing a finish on to the top of the bar. Then Dunlop's pulse froze momentarily when Aird's vicious low cross flashed off his boot and towards his own goal but centimetres past the post.
For some it felt like the straw that broke the camel's back 15 minutes from time when Daly was taken off to be replaced by Sebastian Faure, who went into defence as Bilel Mohsni went upfield into the attack. Why not put McCulloch forward? "Embarrassing, McCoist" came a shout. "Unbelievable Ally," was another. Mohsni had been one of the poorest players in the game, his passing atrocious. He was lucky to stay on the pitch at all. Then he was their saviour.
When Templeton flung a ball to the back post, Mohsni connected with a back header. He also raised his arms and impeded the goalkeeper at his back. Ball and keeper ended up in the net and the goal stood. Rangers pummelled away for a late winner but there was no more cruelty for Rovers. Both teams got what they deserved: Rovers a replay, Rangers the jeers of their angry support.