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Rangers 1 Stranraer 1: Winning run fizzles out after awkward display

A mundane occasion turned into a significant event for Rangers.

Jamie Longworth (not in picture) snatches an injury-time equaliser for Stranraer that ended Rangers' 21-game winning streak.
Jamie Longworth (not in picture) snatches an injury-time equaliser for Stranraer that ended Rangers' 21-game winning streak.

Ally McCoist's side were only minutes away from recording a 21st straight victory, one short of the club record, when a hapless moment from their own corner kick allowed Stranraer to break upfield to equalise.

It was the turn of events the Ibrox manager has always predicted, since he consistently dismissed the notion his team might complete the season with a 100% league record, but that will not have dulled his frustration. It certainly did not for the home fans, who booed the team off the pitch.

Stranraer were worthy of the point because they were never outplayed. That was down to the combination of their own well-ordered set-up and refusal to concede that the game was lost as much as to Rangers' own awkward display.

Even so, a corner kick deep into injury time should not end with the attacking team losing a goal. It was taken short, but Stranraer were still able to work the ball upfield quickly to Andrew Stirling, who was a bright attacking presence throughout.

His long run took advantage of Bilel Mohsni failing to track back into position, and Stirling's cross was missed by two defenders before it ran to Jamie Longworth. The forward had time and space inside the area to compose himself and steer a shot beyond Cammy Bell. "I was too scared to take it first time and miss it," said Longworth.

It was an important strike, not least because it was the first goal Stranraer have ever scored against Rangers, albeit on only the fifth occasion the sides have ever met.

"It was an appalling goal to lose," said McCoist. "Instead of seeing the game out we lose the ball. I'm quite upset about the goal. I couldn't give a monkey's about the record.

"I'm only interested in the level of performance, and that was extremely disappointing. The players have got a lot of praise for going on a great run since the start of the league campaign, but they would admit that wasn't good enough. We all deserve the criticism that will be placed on us."

The last event Ibrox held was the Rangers International Football Club annual meeting. That was seven days before this game, and the mood was certainly more inflamed.

The politics of the club's boardroom has been engrossing, but with the directors re-elected and the chief executive, Graham Wallace, impressing with his authority and command of the situation, there are no longer any distractions from the fortunes of the team.

There were no banners, no protest songs, but a sense of expectation from the home fans. Rangers were pursuing their 16th consecutive league win and their 21st in all competitions, one short of the club's previous best run. The statistics were impressive, but the performance did not rise to match them and lacked any real accomplishment.

The visitors contributed to that, since they refused to be cowed. They had cause to be self-assured, since they were unbeaten in their previous nine games, only two of which were draws. Rangers created some half-chances, but they were never fully in control and that was reflected in the subdued atmosphere.

Events leading to the opening goal barely roused the fans, since there were no appeals from Rangers players or supporters when Nicky Clark fell to the ground inside the penalty area. The referee, Andrew Dallas, adjudged that Frank McKeown pulled the striker down, though, and Lee McCulloch converted the spot kick.

"Nobody else saw it," said Stephen Aitken, the Stranraer manager, who sought an explanation from Dallas at half-time. "He said there was contact, and he said if it was at the other end he would have given it. If it hadn't have been for a dodgy penalty, though, we might have got more out of the game."

Aitken was entitled to be satisfied. His team did not create many opportunities, but they were often composed in possession and Stirling was an occasional menace.

One free-kick from the winger drew a smart save from Bell, who tipped the ball over. As the game progressed, though, the visitors found more ambition, and sensed a draw might be retrieved at the death. "The team was running on empty, the players were shattered," said Aitken. "We're thrilled, though. Normally I'd tell the players to enjoy their night, but we've got Forfar at home in 48 hours."

Rangers will seek to redeem themselves away to Dunfermline on Monday night. The return from injury of Andy Little as a substitute was a boost, but overall the team was flat and uninspiring.

Mohsni took risks throughout also, and the performance lacked the necessary conviction. "We looked like a team that hadn't played for three weeks," McCoist said. "I thought Stranraer deserved their point."

That assessment will trouble the manager more than any other.

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