A disruptive wind, and doughty opponents, made for an awkward occasion at Station Park, and there was a measure of achievement in securing the victory. Even so, this was a performance that caused disquiet.
At one stage during the second half, when an attacking move broke down, an away fan in the main stand shouted that "the referee made the best run" for a pass. The humour was as black as the mood of some fans. The contest had to be endured, although those sitting in the stand did not experience the full strength of the gusty conditions.
"I wasn't happy with the performance and I agree with the fans," said McCoist. "We told the players that. But I can sympathise with them because of the wind. As disappointed as we all are with the performance, I would cut the players some slack because of it. The conditions played a massive part in the way the game was played and sadly for the fans there wasn't a lot of good football. The wind was horrendous and all over the place. You saw the amount of times the ball either hung up or went flying forward. It didn't help the flow of the game and didn't help either of us pass the ball."
Rangers ought to have arrived in a state of alert. Their last visit to Station Park, only seven weeks ago in the Scottish League Cup, brought their only defeat of the season. That was when the visitors could not field any of the players who agreed to sign as free agents on September 1, so seven of them lining up at the start should have been reflected in a more accomplished display. There was, after all, no immediate threat from Forfar Athletic.
The home side set out to contain their opponents, stringing five men across the midfield and stifling any signs of initiative. Creativity turned out to be a rare commodity anyway. Even with David Templeton playing just off the centre forward, Jon Daly, there was no real ingenuity about Rangers' play. The ball tended to travel across the pitch in deep areas at a pedestrian pace.
The approach was muted, only in part because of the home side's diligence and industry. Too many individual Rangers players made flawed decisions in possession, and the result was a disjointed performance. Early on, McCoist hollered at his players to push up and put the Forfar defence under pressure for a period of 10 minutes, to try to alter the tone of the game. Even that notion was unreliable, though.
With Marvin Andrews and Darren Dods in central defence, Forfar dealt comfortably with any high balls slung towards Daly. With Chris Templeman unsettling Bilel Mohsni at every opportunity - the two players are the same height and build, so their tussles usually ended up being physical and awkward - Rangers lacked command in every area.
"Get further up the park and shoot," implored a Rangers supporter in the main stand. "Just shoot." Instead, it was a momentary lapse by the home side that provided Rangers with an opening. Rather than clear the ball, Dods inexplicably passed it straight to Templeton, who played it back upfield to Andy Little. The striker took one touch to control it before stabbing a shot beyond Darren Hill, the Forfar goalkeeper. "The goal we lost wasn't acceptable at any level of football," said Ian Campbell, the Forfar assistant manager. "But I thought we played well and we're disappointed not to take something from the game."
There was a grim sense of purpose to both sides after the interval. They had to adapt to the conditions, and that often meant acting on instinct alone. Dale Hilson was mobile enough to shake off Richard Foster, and his first thought was to rifle a shot at goal that flew just owe the bar. That was a conventional chance, but Rangers were vulnerable to unorthodox attacks. The wind in his favour, Hill sent a kick upfield that landed inside the opposition penalty area. With the defenders floundering, Hilson lobbed the ball towards the net, only for it to land the wrong side of the upright.
Rangers switched shape and moved players around, but no combination provided the sense of assurance or control that they required. Templeman even almost equalised when he headed Iain Campbell's corner off the face of the crossbar.
Law at least provided moments of finesse for the visitors, and he was unlucky that the shot he lifted over the prone Hill and Mark Baxter floated over the bar. It was the home side who applied the meaningful pressure during the closing stages, though, with Andrews pushed up front. From one corner kick, Dods saw his effort cleared off the line by Templeton. "That was as competitive a fixture as we've had in a long time," said McCoist. "I'm not sure we would have won this a year ago. So the fact we got a clean sheet [is pleasing]."
McCoist also revealed that he would be speaking to Marius Zaliukas within the next 24 hours to find out if the defender will accept Rangers' contract offer. There is still work to be done in all respects.