They reached the Ramsdens Cup final and even if it is a tournament that does not feature highly in their ambitions, the experience alone will be meaningful for a team that is still developing and bonding. Ally McCoist will hope for other, more significant triumphs in his managerial career, but for now he can only deal with the challenges in front of him.
Rangers often looked limited and were unable to raise the tempo enough to cause their opponents discomfort. Perseverance turned out to be sufficient enough but it also took a momentary aberration from Chris Smith, the Stenhousemuir goalkeeper, to enable Rangers to score from a rare clear opportunity.
The home side will dwell on the regret of that mistake. But Darren Smith was just as culpable since he ought to have scored earlier in the second half. In the end, Rangers did enough to progress, and will face Raith Rovers in the final next April, with the venue to be announced today. The only regret for Rangers was the booking for dissent that will rule out Arnold Peralta for the final.
"It means everything to get there," said McCoist. "It's part of the process of returning to where we want to be. We've not been in a final for a long time and nobody at the club will underestimate how important it is for us. I didn't tell [Peralta] he was on a yellow card and I still don't know if that was the right decision. But sometimes it affects players and you want them to play their normal game."
The previous meeting in the league was playing on the minds of both sides. An 8-0 scoreline will always carry a psychological impact, and the two managers will have attempted to use it in their favour. For Martyn Corrigan, it could be a motivational tool, since such a chastening result wounds players' pride; this was an opportunity to atone. For McCoist, it was a reminder to his players to expect fired-up opponents and so guard against complacency. In the end, the sides seemed overcome by caution, although that almost benefited Rangers. When Eddie Malone dwelled on the ball, Jon Daly robbed him and then worked it out to Peralta. He returned it to Daly, only for Kevin McKinlay to upend the striker inside the penalty area. McCoist raced down the touchline to remonstrate with the fourth official when the referee, Bobby Madden, waved play on. McCoist also spoke to Madden on his way off the pitch at half-time.
His frustration would have been exacerbated by the rest of the opening period. Rangers created half chances but struggled to disrupt the organisation of their hosts. It was perhaps a measure of how little space Stenhousemuir left behind their defenders that Rangers came closest with long-range efforts; Peralta hit the bar with a rasping shot, then Nicky Law headed wide after Lee Wallace headed the rebound back across goal. Law then unleashed his own fierce shot from distance, which bounced off the bar. "It was as difficult as we thought it would be," said McCoist. "Our finishing was not of the standard it has been."
Stenhousemuir sought to be just as robust after the interval, but there were more constructive moments to raise their spirits. David Rowson's shot from the edge of the area flew straight at Bilel Moshni, although the ball did appear to strike his arm. Brown Ferguson then drew a save from Cammy Bell after striking an effort on target from a difficult angle. With Malone growing in assurance at centre-back, and dealing with the presence and power of Daly, the home side were increasingly hopeful.
Stenhousemuir had to rely on their wits but they were at their most threatening when the Rangers defenders lost their concentration. A swift passing move down the right exploited gaps in the backline and Higgins' through ball to Ferguson caused Bell to rush from his goal. The midfielder's cross then found Darren Smith unmarked, but he steered his header wide of the open goal. The chance was a lapse in the Rangers' defence, but they were already performing as though laboured. McCoist introduced David Templeton and Andy Little from the bench to try to shake some energy and intent into his side. When Mohsni lofted a straightforward ball up into the Stenhousemuir penalty area, the goalkeeper Chris Smith inexplicably raced from his line, only to see Daly win the header first and send the ball past him into the net.
"Chris has been excellent this season and I won't isolate him," said Corrigan. "We win and die as a team. We had a gameplan and it worked well. Rangers were time-wasting towards the end and you don't often see that."
A sudden misjudgment had robbed Stenhousemuir of their mood of optimism. Malone, in particular, must have cursed the rashness, since he had otherwise coped admirably with Daly. The single goal already looked to be sufficient, since the home side were drained by conceding with only 15 minutes remaining. Rangers cut their opponents open again with Little releasing Law, but the midfielder's shot was clipped off the line by McKinlay.