The second round of the Ramsdens Cup would never be an illustrious game for either side. Rangers progressed even though they did not emphatically outplay their opponents. Falkirk played brightly without ever creating any clear goalscoring opportunities; excitement became a rare commodity.
Glory was never at stake when both sides are focused on other competitions. Defeat would have been more harmful for Rangers, who are still coming to terms with their fate, and they were at least dutiful in their approach. There was a scrappiness to the victory, but it could still be valued by the manager. "We were down to the bare bones," said Ally McCoist. "It was a tough game, but that wasn't a shock. Falkirk passed the ball well, but we just shaded it."
The season has found its routine, but players are still becoming accustomed to their circumstances. Nobody would expect two personnel changes at the back to suddenly make Rangers vulnerable, but Chris Hegarty and Emilson Cribari were making their full debuts. That kind of upheaval needs to be accommodated, and Dorin Goian last night finalised a season-long loan deal to Serie B side, Spezia Calcio, while Stephane Faure, a 21-year-old French centre-back, signed on a three-year deal.
Maurice Edu is also on the verge of leaving for Stoke City, and the unsettled nature of the squad is something to be borne by the players. Emilson was immediately anxious when the ball first came to him, but he settled into the demands of the encounter.
Falkirk were benevolent opponents, since they were not inclined to send high balls forward and hustle Rangers' centre-backs physically. That kind of roughhouse play would dismay Steven Pressley.
Scottish football often adopts a contrary attitude towards the Falkirk manager, who is pleasingly unafraid to speak his mind, but the style and approach of his team is the most eloquent riposte to any detractors. The home side withstood the pressure Rangers immediately applied, and then imposed their own tempo on the game. The control was exerted by their possession of the ball. They are well-drilled, and the order must have caused the visitors angst.
They lost at this venue in the Scottish Communities League Cup last season, although change has afflicted both teams. In status, Rangers were the underdogs, but it is uncommon for a third division side to contain one player whose wages alone would be greater than those of Falkirk's entire team. Rangers' other recent signings, Ian Black and Fran Sandaza, were among the better players in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League last season, and it ought to have been Falkirk who were daunted by the contest.
They rejected that notion, and Lyle Taylor was only inches from opening the scoring when he lunged towards David Weatherston's cross inside the penalty area. Scoring opportunities were rare, with so much of the play contained in midfield, and Sandaza must have been filled with regret after heading wide from close range.
Falkirk are a youthful side, but the only rashness was displayed when Stewart Murdoch threw himself into a tackle on Black in the second-half and earned himself a booking. The incident was rare, because the home side contented themselves with being composed in their approach. It was Rangers who were obliged to be dogged. They were never alarmed in defence, but their attacking play was so ragged that the coaching staff looked increasingly exasperated.
It took a moment of resourcefulness to alter the nature of the game. Sandaza fed the ball into the path of Andy Little's run was conventional enough, but where others might have crossed after making space inside the penalty area, his finish from a tight angle was precise and fierce enough to evade Michael McGovern, Falkirk's goalkeeper, and skid into the net.
The interval allowed the home side to regroup, and Pressley could have restricted his team talk to urging his players to maintain their approach. The harsher words were required in the away dressing room, since the advantage was too fragile to allow for any sense of accomplishment. There was an early warning, too, when Kieran Duffie improvised an effort on target with his knee from Stephen Kingsley's cross. A chance created and almost finished by the home side's two full-backs was a reflection of Falkirk's mood. They were not cowed. The eagerness was never enough to compensate for a lack of penetration, though, and the first division side continued to be unable to create any chances.
"We applied our principles, showed composure and played our passing game," Pressley said. "We never troubled their goalkeeper enough, but we'll work on that. The players showed everything I wanted."
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