Anyone visiting a dank and dismal Forthbank Stadium for the first time on Saturday could have been forgiven for thinking that eleven Santas dressed in black and gold strips had broken into the ground before throwing a ninety minute party based on the concept of chucking freebies at the opposition. That was the essence of an abysmal Rangers’ performance which resulted in the Gers shipping six goals to the worst team to visit Shielfield since a “Faroes Island ” eleven washed up in the mid 80s, and Rangers, for want of something better to do at that time, pulverised a bunch of itinerant winchmen and fish-gutters in the greatest international victory in the club’s history. Saturday’s gutless surrender does not even begin to compete.
The Rangers’ board has deservedly won plaudits for their astute financial stewardship in recent years, culminating in an £11k profit to the year ended May 2012. If this performance does’nt rouse them from their reverie though, nothing will. If Ian Little’s team are to crash through the glass ceiling into the fast receding-dream of the playoff places, then his directors are going to have to splash some serious cash on a new goalkeeper, a striker to do something more than run around like a headless chicken, and a left sided midfielder who understands the value of moving the ball more quickly than Kevin McDonald does. Saturday shone a very harsh light on Rangers’ weaknesses, and the likes of Yossi Bejaoui, John Ferguson and McDonald did not emerge victorious into the light as a consequence.
Anyone catching the 6-3 scoreline on final score should qickly disabuse themselves of the notion that this was an entertaining game. Rangers created about four and a half chances, and scored with three of them against the bottom-placed side in the league. Albion, by way of contrast, looked liable to score against a panic-stricken defence every time they ventured forward. Rangers will not wish to dwell for long on their first visit to Forthbank in 8 years, but they desperately need to address the obvious weaknesses which have bedevilled their campaign to keep the season alive until the dog days of May 2013.
The irony is that anyone who witnessed the opening ten minutes of this bizarre encounter would have bet their mortgage against the Albion getting anything from the game. Rangers spent every single minute of that period encamped in the Albion half, and the home side escaped when ref Newlands chose to brandish a yellow instead on a deserved red at McGeachie for a crude hack on Darren Lavery as the in-form Rangers’ striker looked to break beyond the last man in the 8th minute. Lee Currie’s 13th minute free kick skidded inches wide of Mark Peat’s goal before Albion took a shock lead three minutes later. A hopeful hoof found Steven Day breaking behind a statuesque Jacobs before slotting a low shot past Bejaoui from the angle. It was one of those “did that really happen?” moments, and if Elvis had galloped across the pitch astride a golden calf it would have been marginally less surprising. The goal gave Albion an infusion of confidence, and despite Lavery’s sumptuous 23rd minute equaliser, gliding home an inch-perfect 18 yarder from Gray’s cute lay-off, they had enough about them to regain the lead in double-quick time. A criminal two minutes later, Gary Thom got a free header in from McAnespie’s corner. It was underpowered and looked Bejaoui’s all the way, but the big keeper, displaying the agility of a mortally-wounded buffalo, allowed the header to drift over him and in under the bar. It was a shocking goal to lose and his uncertainty spread like a contagion to the Gers defence, with even the normally unflappable Brydon looking mortal for once.
Lee Currie dragged Rangers back into it on the half hour mark, curling home another peach of a free kick from 25 yards out, but parity was short-lived and Albion regained the lead six minutes later, White ramming the ball home after Hoskins had twice cleared off the line. How Rangers managed to lose two second balls in the space of a few seconds should be the subject of a internal enquiry, but the incident served to highlight the walking shambles purporting to be the black and gold defence. Albion cemented their advantage in the final minute of the first half, from, you’ve guessed it, another corner. This time Ferry buried a close range effort from McAnespie’s corner after the set-piece caused mayhem in the Gers’ defence. It reached the point where Chris Townsley must have been inclined to beg the ref to award penalties instead of corners on the basis that Albion were less likely to score from the latter.
Predictably, the second period was a more pedestrian affair. Lee Currie added to his bulging list of goal of the season contenders with another pearler in the 57th minute, beating Peat all ends up from 28 yards out. Currie deserves a special mention here. By my reckoning, this was his fifth goal from set-piece distance this season, better than any other Rangers player I can think of in the last forty years, including the legendary Jimmy Morton. That’s some record, and it’s unlikely there is a more proficient free kick specialist operating in Scottish football at present. Unfortunately, his brilliance failed to light a fire under a Rangers’ revival. Apart from another free kick which Currie hit too high, Rangers failed to create another goalscoring opportunity despite finding themselves a single goal shy of their hosts. Instead, it was Albion who added to their tally, White burying a penalty after a shocking decsion from ref Newlands who penalised Currie for a brave block with his chest. Not that the spot-kick award materially affected the outcome of the match, Weir completing the scoring with a low fifteen yarder after Rangers made an absolute howk of clearing another corner.
If Saturday’s performance does’nt serve as a wake up call at Shielfield, nothing will. The hard-grafting Notman and Currie worked manfully to keep their team afloat but there are too many players in this team who simply don’t appear to care enough whether they win or lose, and for whom picking up their wage packet is far too easy. January’s transfer window is now a test. Use it wisely, and the play-offs remain a realistic prospect. Not doing so will represent a failure of ambition which frustrated suppoters will be entitled to question.
Bejaoui 2; Jacobs 4 (McLean 6); Townsley 4; Brydon 4; Hoskins 4; McDonald 3; Currie 6; Notman 6; Gray 4; Lavery 5 (Carse 5) Ferguson 2 (McLaren 2)
Crowd – 427