They struggled yesterday to break down a dogged Stenhousemuir side and even once they did, the visitors were reduced to 10 men when Arnold Peralta was sent off for a reckless challenge and had to regroup. If the quality of the performance was diminished, Ally McCoist could at least be reassured that his side is capable of being resilient.
There was a sense of improvisation to the way that Rangers finally overcame Stenhousemuir, since the goals involved awkward lay-offs by Jon Daly and some refined technique by Nicky Law to convert them. The Rangers manager noted that his side has not tended to perform well at Ochilview, where the artificial surface seems to trouble them, but satisfaction would have been his over-riding emotion. Other assessments can be addressed in training, after all.
"It wasn't easy on the eye, but after going down to 10 men we just wanted to see the game out," McCoist said. "They were great finishes from Nicky. I look forward to seeing them again."
The tension appeared to have been spent in anticipation of the encounter. The comments of John Gemmell, the Stenhousemuir striker, on Twitter on Saturday night, when he called Ally McCoist a "p****" for complaining about the scheduling of this rearranged game, generated a sense of expectation. Gemmell started on the bench, not making an appearance until the 55th minute - to some sporadic booing from the away fans - and the occasion was instead marked by its subdued mood.
The atmosphere was so muted that it was noticeable when a group of away fans behind one of the goals laughed as a steward - who had been obstructing their view - sat down on a small plastic seat brought round hurriedly by one of his colleagues. The biggest cheer of the opening period, at least until Rangers eventually scored, was for somebody taking three attempts to throw the ball back over the tall wire fence which runs along one side of the pitch.
The goal came as a relief for the visitors, since they had barely made an impact prior to it. Lee Wallace had rattled the crossbar with a fierce strike, but otherwise it had been a laboured display. The tempo was too slow, the passing and movement too flat, and the ponderous nature of Rangers' play had been a source of conviction for the home side. Even so, the visitors found the means to be ruthless on one occasion, bypassing a more measured approach. Richard Foster delivered a deep cross up to the edge of the penalty area, Daly deftly headed the ball down to Law, and the midfielder side-footed a firm shot beyond Chris Smith, the Stenhousemuir goalkeeper.
Rangers ought then to have consolidated their advantage, but Peralta took a sudden rash turn when he challenged Eddie Malone for a loose ball. The Honduran lunged in with his leg raised high and his studs showing, leaving referee Bobby Madden no option but to send him off.
"My first reaction was that it was a booking but it probably was a red," said McCoist. "He was very high and I was maybe being more hopeful than anything else by wanting a yellow card. The referee was pretty well placed to see it and I don't have any complaints. It set us back and changed the whole outlook of the game."
The home side would have felt aggrieved by being behind, because they had established a comfortable frame of mind. Their organisation and endeavour was enough to limit their opponents, but also unnerve them. Sebastien Faure was slipping as he passed the ball back towards his own goal early on, and the ball ran straight to Sean Higgins. The centre-forward could not be decisive, though, and by rushing out of his goal, Cammy Bell was able to block. The goalkeeper still had work to do, since the ball then all ran to Sean Dickson, but Bell was able to block his effort while grounded.
It was certainly evident that the visitors were intent on defending their lead rather than adding to it after the interval, with Daly often playing 10 yards ahead of his nearest team-mate, although a Wallace free-kick and a Fraser Aird effort from distance drew saves from Smith. The cautious approach was necessary for Rangers, not least because when Gemmell came on it was so that Stenhousemuir were playing two up front. They made little real headway in breaking Rangers down, though.
Rangers were adept at clearing their lines, although the ball seldom stuck upfield with Daly since he was on his own. Nonetheless, the centre-forward was still effective and it was his ability to chest the ball into the path of the on-running Law that created the chance for the midfielder to score his second goal, although it still required a piece of audacious skill to steer a volley past Smith from an awkward angle.