As we head towards SPFL Championship matchday 20 just over midway through another season that’s been tainted by a toxic cluster bomb of off-field ownership, boardroom, business and financial problems at the Club, we turn our attention not to another embarrassment off the park, but another embarrassment on it.
Saturday will be our fourth attempt of the season at trying to beat Alloa. We first dropped points to them away from home in a bitterly disappointing 1-1 draw back in September. That was only our sixth league game, but it was our tenth competitive game of the season including Cup games and followed a string of 7 pre-season friendly matches including a lovely wee tour of North America’s west coast and Canada.
Our starters on that September day in Alloa were: Simonsen, McGregor, McCulloch, Mohsni, Smith, Aird, Black, Law, Macleod, Boyd and Clark, but first half injuries to Macleod (replaced by Templeton after only 13 minutes) and Clark (replaced by Daly just before half time) meant two forced changes in the first 45 minutes. Despite creating and missing some chances there could be no excuses for a familiarly poor first half performance.
Even Steve Simonsen was having one of those nightmare games, accidentally hooking throw outs behind himself and all sorts of nonsense. Nothing personal and no offence to the guy, but it’s horrendous mistakes like that from the big Englishman that sometimes make you wonder if you should be thankful that he normally just punts the ball up the pitch despite fans screaming for the opposite.
We managed to hold out for the first 36 minutes, but eventually Alloa’s left back knocked in a cross which somehow bemused our experienced, highly talented and mobile central defence of Jig & Mohsni just enough for an Alloa lad to fire a glancing header into the bottom corner. To say the travelling Bears were stunned and unhappy would be putting it very politely.
In the second half Alloa probably created the best of the chances and were no doubt gutted that they didn’t take one of them because they were dangerous from set pieces and also catching us on the break as we pushed up in search of an equalizer. We got through it with a bit of luck though and it was another slice of luck which gave us the leveller as a frantic scramble in the Alloa box saw the ball bouncing around and landing at the feet of Templeton who said thank you very much and put it away.
Our next league game against Alloa came at Ibrox in mid November in the form of yet another bitterly disappointing 1-1 draw where the disciplined, resilient and solid Alloa side sat deep, defended well and frustrated us with neat passing and swift counter-attacks. At 0-0 half time came and went and it wasn’t until 72 minutes into a turgid and mostly forgettable encounter that some relief came when our captain broke the deadlock.
A corner from Macleod found Jig at the back post with enough time to take a touch then blast it home with a left foot drive and it’s moments like that from our veteran captain which have you wondering if he should maybe be playing a more attacking role in the side. He’s certainly not a central defender and never will be, so while our strikers are struggling to score goals would there be any harm in shuffling the pack and getting Jig and his brute force fire power back up front? Could someone maybe ask Kenny McDowall to try that idea out on his clipboard to see how it looks?
Anyway, the sheer relief of going 1-0 up on the mighty Alloa Athletic at Ibrox was extremely short lived as no more than 6 minutes later a low drive forced a good save out of Simonsen, but unfortunately he couldn’t hold on to it and Buchanan got to the rebound first to fire it high into the roof of our net. In a last throw of the dice Ally McCoist chucked on Nicky Clark for the last 10 minutes, but against a well drilled and very determined Alloa side, the substitution was too little too late.
Just over 2 weeks later we went to Alloa’s Indodrill Stadium for a Challenge Cup semi-final tie on the Wednesday night and it turned out to be an epic 5 goal thriller which Alloa fans will probably never forget, but a shocking capitulation and defeat for us. Not only was it one of our lowest ebbs on the pitch in recent years, but one of the lowest ever and one which was probably the breaking point in Ally McCoist’s managerial tenure for Rangers.
After yet another dire first half display from us and another solid performance from Alloa we were a bit lucky to be going in 0-0 at the break because Alloa had created the better chances in the first half and would have been slightly annoyed to not have taken advantage of one of them. The hard working Alloa unit also managed to limit our chances to little more than one or two hopeful long range efforts at the other end, so they would at least have been satisfied with that.
I was about to try to briefly summarise the second half which served up 5 goals in a battle of shock and awe that went one way, then the other to see us put out the Cup on a night we should have reached the final, but I honestly don’t want to relive it and doubt anyone reading this other than a few Alloa fans would want to relive it either, so let’s just move swiftly on to tomorrow’s league business that sees us back in Alloa for our third visit of the season.
With 4 points already dropped to Alloa in the league we go there tomorrow for what is an absolute ‘must win’ game. We trail league leaders Hearts by 13 points, which is a considerable gap, but with the Tynecastle side coming to Ibrox next Friday night we’ll have the opportunity to narrow whatever gap remains. Alloa are up first though and there will be no excuses for dropping any more points to them no matter how well drilled a side they are and no matter whether their pitch is artificial or not.
We’ve played on synthetic surfaces often enough in the lower leagues for them to be second nature to most of our players and with us having one to train on at Murray Park as well, then having to play on such surfaces – even if varied in quality – is simply not an acceptable excuse for inept performances. Alloa haven’t won a single league game since 8 November and you can be sure they wouldn’t dream of blaming that on any of the pitches they’ve played on.
Our caretaker manager Kenny McDowall will have to have a cunning plan for how we’re going to defeat this strong & resilient Alloa side on our fourth attempt of the season tomorrow, so no doubt his clipboard will be busy tonight and well used in the Indodrill Stadium. If the magic clipboard doesn’t pay dividends tomorrow though, then I’d respectfully suggest to Kenny that he should consider dropping it in favour of a fresh approach.
Please feel free to comment below or on the forum thread for this match preview here - Alloa v Rangers: Can our highly paid players beat Alloa on the fourth attempt?