This might once have been a mundane event for Rangers, but it was an occasion that escaped its old constraints.

Almost 40,000 supporters turned up to watch a team good enough to compete for the SPL title, and so a first-round tie in the League Cup became the expression of something more significant: the extent of Rangers' resolve to overcome their circumstances.

The mood around Ibrox was not to dwell on the past, at least not as a cause for despair. The summer had brought a series of setbacks, but a place in the third division has prompted a spirited response among the supporters.

Sandy Jardine addressed the crowd beforehand, with the intention of rousing the fans, and there was a triumphant cheer when it was announced that the kick-off was to be delayed by 15 minutes to allow more people into the stadium.

"I was really nervous," admitted Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager. "It was a big game for the club, and for the supporters. The eyes of the world are on us and we don't want to let anybody down.

"We're going to get tough games, we're going to play 40-odd cup-finals this season. I wanted to give the fans something they would be pleased to see and I think we did."

The occasion was a release, of emotion, of anxiety, even of any lingering feeling of consternation. Fans were eager to display their commitment to the club. This first home game at Ibrox became, then, an expression of defiant celebration, and the attendance of 38,160 was in itself an act of loyalty.

A declaration of support was being made. Season-ticket sales will deliver the same message, as supporters begin to warm – albeit warily – to the gruff charm of Charles Green, the Ibrox chief executive. Worries were always going to be forgotten for the duration of the game, but there is also a willingness to be optimistic when the club is making shrewd signings.

Ian Black brings a spikiness and drive to the midfield, and Dean Shiels was prominent last night on his debut. They were, arguably, the two best players for their respective clubs last season, Hearts and Kilmarnock, and fans of those teams will be galled to see them move to Rangers despite the Ibrox side being in the third division.

McCoist is building a squad but will feel pressed for time, since a 12-month registration embargo begins on September 1, but each signing is also a reminder of the club's ambition as well as its sense of esteem. The wages on offer are higher than other clubs in Scotland, Celtic apart, can afford because of the size of the Rangers support and the savings made on the wage bill with the departures of the likes of Allan McGregor, Steven Davis, Steven Whittaker and Steven Naismith.

Maurice Edu and Alejandro Bedoya are expected to follow them out of Ibrox, but the team is still of far greater quality than any non-SPL opponents it will meet. East Fife attempted to contain Rangers, but the second division side was soon overcome. Shiels, in particular, drifted into pockets of space behind Lee McCulloch, the central striker, and so prompted much of the home team's attacks. There was a drifting menace to Shiels, and he slid a deft pass through for McCulloch to score the opening goal beyond Michael Brown.

The recent signings invigorated the Ibrox squad, but the journey back to prominence is still an opportunity to encourage the development of some of the club's young players. Lewis McLeod and Barrie McKay kept their places in the starting line-up, and both impressed intermittently. McLeod sent one raking pass across the pitch to Andrew Little, leading to Shiels shooting wide, then McKay's shot deflected into Shiels' path and he chipped the ball over Brown for the second goal.

Rangers had command of the game, and Lee Wallace's fierce drive just after the interval only emphasised the divide between the two sides. McCulloch added the fourth goal, after McKay sent him through with a clever pass, then Rangers brought on Sandaza and Kyle for their debuts. The strength of the Ibrox club's resources compared to their lower division opponents would never have been more starkly illustrated.