They are taking such an emotional battering, and seem so short of people capable of making life bearable, that anyone who steps up to the plate is embraced as enthusiastically as the second coming.
Lee McCulloch may have felt a little embarrassed by the fuss made over his performance against the poorest team in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League at the weekend. Daniel Cousin did not play at all but could still bask in some adulation over what he may contribute in his second spell at Rangers. There is a longing for characters who might lift the mood around Ibrox.
A few minutes after full-time in Fife, Sone Aluko went up to McCulloch and said "what have you been doing playing in midfield and not as a striker", so impressed was the wee winger with McCulloch's display as David Healy's striking partner. "He looked a top striker", Aluko explained to reporters. McCulloch is no long-term answer for Rangers and he has spent most of his career in midfield because he is more effective there than as a forward, but there was no disputing the presence and strength he gave to Ally McCoist's attack. He was central to a comfortable victory for the defending champions.
Rangers' threat was pitiful in their previous match, the William Hill Scottish Cup home loss to Dundee United, and that prompted McCoist to think of both McCulloch and Cousin as guys who might add some muscle. He approached McCulloch last Monday about playing as a forward and also pushed for the deal to bring back Cousin almost four years after he left (the transfer should be completed today, allowing him to make a debut at home to Kilmarnock on Saturday). McCulloch lashed a volley into the net to put Rangers ahead and was also involved in Healy's tidy equaliser – after Andy Kirk's opener for Dunfermline Athletic – and Aluko's fine goal for the third. Only Salim Kerkar's late fourth came without any contribution from McCulloch, who showed experience and awareness.
Dunfermline have already conceded nearly 60 league goals and Rangers went through them easily. Aluko was relentlessly booed by the home fans for what happened when the clubs last met in December, but this time there was no need for him to dive to earn a penalty. "It's getting to be a weekly thing," he said of the jeering. "I think it's becoming a bit fashionable to boo me. It's something I have to deal with. But I just try to play my normal game and help the team out and just focus on trying to get a result."
He claimed to be similarly unaffected by hearing himself described as inconsistent. "I'm used to it now, it's part of playing for a big club and what more can I do? The best way to respond to it is to score, create goals and help us win games. It's other people's labels. I can't worry about what other people say about me."
Rangers have scored only two goals fewer than Celtic despite the league's best strikers – Gary Hooper and Anthony Stokes – being on the Parkhead payroll. McCoist's problem, of course, is that his team's total includes big contributions from Nikica Jelavic and Steven Naismith, neither of whom can help him now. Kyle Lafferty's absence for another three weeks intensifies the need for reinforcements, although Rangers have run in eight goals in their last two league games and there have been five different scorers (Healy, McCulloch, Aluko, Kerkar and Steven Davis).
That is comforting for McCoist but he still needs a focal point for the forward line and the next couple of weeks will show whether Cousin is still capable of offering that. He is 35, which is knocking on a bit for a striker, and Rangers must hope that his ability will eclipse the inevitable deterioration of his body. "Last time he was with Boydy [Kris Boyd], [Jean-Claude] Darcheville and wee Nacho [Novo]," said McCulloch. "But the feeling in the dressing room was that he was the best all-round striker we had at that time."
Cousin watched from the main stand and could have been forgiven for groaning about the bitter cold and the poor state of the East End Park pitch. At least he would have been warmed by Rangers' dominant performance, with Davis, Aluko, McCulloch and Maurice Edu prominent. Substitute Mervan Celik – fond of a stepover but showing woeful shooting ability so far – was the only one of their five attackers not to score.
Dunfermline began well before being overrun. David Graham hit the woodwork, then Dorin Goian's temporary absence for treatment to an injury meant Rangers were disorganised when Paddy Boyle's cross was tucked home at the back post by Kirk. At 1-3 down they almost pulled one back but Alex Keddie's header was cleared off the line by Aluko.
"In the first game I played everyone made a big fuss about me not getting off the post," said Aluko, who had played Manuel Pascali onside for Kilmarnock's winner in November. "I was just concentrating on trying to stay awake this time."