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Stirling Albion 1 Rangers 1: Too Little, too late

Rangers even spurned a last-minute opportunity to win this game.

Stirling Albion's Ross Forsyth, second from right, wheels away in celebration after levelling the scores
Stirling Albion's Ross Forsyth, second from right, wheels away in celebration after levelling the scores

Andy Little's weak finish, straight at the goalkeeper, David Crawford, was a forlorn effort, but by then it was in keeping with the nature of Rangers' display. Their last visit here brought a defeat, a chastening result in the clubs's history, and this game delivered little better. "I'm disappointed with the second-half performance," Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager, said. "It doesn't matter if you deserve it if you don't take your chances."

Stirling sought to be uncompromising, since they understood their best hope was to disrupt Rangers' composure. There was no hesitation in Josh Flood's fierce tackle on David Templeton, leaving the winger clutching an ankle in the opening minutes. Flood, who cuts a small combative figure, was soon to be booked for persistent fouling and he did not reappear for the second-half.

Stirling defeated Rangers here earlier in the season by being physically assertive and unbowed, so the visitors required to be resilient.

The pitch, slippy with frost, did not allow Rangers to play at the high tempo they desired and much of the early play was ragged. But the visitors could at least be heartened by the partnerships that were effective across the pitch.

Lee Wallace and Templeton, in particular, linked up cleverly, with one often back-heeling the ball to the other on the overlap. Up front, Little and Dean Shiels were able to combine to trouble the home defence, while Kyle Hutton and Ian Black were industrious in central midfield.

The pairings were enough for Rangers to build on. Shiels, for instance, was alert enough and deft enough to spot Little's run but also to deliver the weight of pass that allowed the striker to break beyond the defence, round goalkeeper Crawford and slide the ball into the empty net.

The goal brought a surge of momentum to the visitors and Templeton tried to chip the goalkeeper from the edge of the penalty area only for the ball to drift narrowly over the crossbar.

Neither side was dominant and it became a battle of wills. Stirling could sense that the centre of Rangers' defence was vulnerable, particularly at set-pieces, and two Kieran McAnespie free-kicks offered Jordan White then Brian Allison win free headers. They could not steer their efforts on target, but it was a warning for the visitors that they were not robust enough at defending free-kicks. There might have been an element of complacency, though, since it looked more likely that Rangers would score again as half-time approached.

Black was resourceful as he chased a through ball into the Stirling penalty area but he could only direct his shot wide of the upright. When Shiels sent a back-heel into the path of Wallace, the left-back was rash with his finish. He sliced his shot wide with the goal at his mercy.

A single-goal lead has seldom been comfortable for Rangers this season, though, and there would have been a growing sense of trepidation with each missed chance.

Stirling refused to be disheartened, not least when the visitors had been so vulnerable at set-pieces. They did not have to wait long for their opportunity, winning a free-kick in the 51st minute that McAnespie sent curling into the centre of Rangers' penalty area. It was perfectly flighted for Ross Forsyth to meet the ball with a powerful header beyond goalkeeper Neil Alexander.

The Rangers defenders acted as though affronted but the mistakes had been commonplace. "It's a problem," said McCoist. "It's an inability to do your job at the right time. The players need to take responsibility."

Even in open play, Stirling could prompt the defenders' anxiety, and Mark Ferry was frustrated when he failed to make the most of McAnespie flicking on Jamie McCunnie's cross when he volleyed wide.

There was an element of redemption moments later, though, when he headed a Fran Sandaza shot off his own goal-line. It was the best opportunity that Rangers had been able to create, but the scrappiness – the ball only fell to Sandaza after Black missed it with a fresh-air swipe – was in keeping with their generally lacklustre play. They also needed Alexander to make a sharp save from McAnespie's free-kick.

"We were good value for a point," said a Greig McDonald, the Stirling Albion manager. "I don't think either side can say could claim to be the better team."

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