Ally McCoist and Lee McCulloch made the point in different ways; the two men so steeped in the history and traditions of their club understanding explicitly how a defeat by the team sitting bottom of Scotland's professional leagues might be the worst of all time. Yet the glaring concern was not the result itself, but the sense of inevitability that preceded it.
This was Rangers' fourth away game in the Irn-Bru Third Division, and all have been characterised by the same lack of purpose. Even the 1-0 win away over Forres Mechanics in the William Hill Scottish Cup the weekend before had been wretched.
The squad and the coaching staff held a team meeting last Monday to emphasise the failings and eradicate them. Strong words were spoken, and when McCulloch was asked if he thought that gathering, and all of its hard truths, had been enough, he could only say "yep", quietly, leaving the rest unspoken.
This is the problem for Rangers, or McCoist in particular: the same old faults keep being repeated. When third division teams host Rangers, they defend deep, so there is no space for attackers to run in behind. They commit two lines of four to defending their penalty area, so there are no gaps left for opportunistic forwards. Even a combination of McCulloch's muscle and aggression with Dean Shiels' guile and technique proves helpless. The answer McCoist and his coaches come up with will be a defining aspect of his managerial career.
The more hot-tempered fans might agitate for change, but further disruption is not what Rangers need. As much as tactical alterations are necessary – the team needs to win the ball higher up the pitch, play at a quicker tempo, commit more midfielders in support of attack and use the full-backs to provide width to force opposition back-lines to work in retreat – players need to be more streetwise.
Stirling Albion were aggressive – some of the physical exchanges were extremely robust, although never vicious – and Rangers were unable to impose themselves.
"I don't think there was any malice in the challenges," said Kieran McAnespie, the Stirling defender. "It was about getting behind the ball and making sure they didn't pulverise us. You need to be strong at the back in this division, whether it's against Montrose or Rangers."
The intent was uninhibited, and the visitors acted as though they were perplexed. Whenever Fraser Aird gathered the ball, he ran with pace and directness at Stirling, causing the defenders to backtrack anxiously, yet he seldom received possession. The same occurred to Anestis Argyriou on the right flank, even when he was free at the corner of the penalty area.
Too many Rangers players chose the safe option, turning infield, passing back to one of the defenders, then moving out of the way. Collectively, there needs to be more bravery, more willingness to commit opponents.
"It's affecting the dressing room," McCulloch admitted. "There's a lot of young boys and it's important that we keep encouraging them, making sure they don't go into their shells. It's important we stay positive. You saw their defenders' faces, the aggression they showed every time they won a header or blocked a tackle, it was as if they'd scored a goal. The only chance we have is to be as aggressive as them. We won't get away with another result like this."
Even the goal that Rangers conceded was mortifying, since it was a straightforward corner that they failed to defend, allowing Brian Allison to score. All of the quirks of the occasion – the Stirling manager, Greig McDonald missing the game to get married; the goalkeeper Sam Filler playing for 23 minutes in the first half without being able to see out of one eye; Stirling having lost their previous five league games – were incidental to the most damning truth for Rangers: this was not an isolated failure but a recurrence of old mistakes.
"I just feel frustrated," said McCoist. "At the same time, there is a determination to put it right. Nobody needs to remind me of what's required. But saying it is one thing, we have to prove we can do it."
It is about mindset, an understanding of the qualities required in these encounters. The manager has it, but his players need to develop it.
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