Sunday, September 23, 2012

Season 2012/2013: Match 5: Rangers 4 Montrose 1 (Irn-Bru SFL Division Three)

It was a day of divided loyalties today, with the team I've supported since I was a boy meeting the side I've followed through thick and very thin over the past five years.

Today marked my first visit to Ibrox since Rangers were resurrected in Division Three. The only noticeable change from the SPL days was that the streets around the ground were a bit quieter before the match, but that might be due more to the fact that my esteemed press corps colleague had us in Glasgow at noon for a 3pm kick-off.

But by the time the match got underway, more than 45,000 punters had streamed through the turnstiles. Montrose didn't seem overawed by the occasion, even though for most of their players it was their first experience of playing in front of such a large crowd.

Stuart Garden even had the balls to play two up front, Garry Wood starting up top alongside Leighton McIntosh. Terry Masson (called Terry Mason in the official team lines - I'd put that down to an accident anywhere except Ibrox) lined up alongside Jonathan Crawford in central midfield, Screech deciding that there can never be enough crazy hair on one's head and complementing his jewfro with an ill-advised bumfluff moustache.

Talking of crazy hair, Lloyd Young had had a rush of blood to the head the night before the match and carved his head into weird patterns and formations that were perhaps designed to strike fear into the hearts of Ian Black and Lee McCulloch, but would instead be of more interest to conspiracy theorists and cryptologists, who could surely find some hidden message amongst the swirls.

David Gray played on the right wing in front of Stephen McNally, with Alan Campbell and Paul Lunan at centre back and Ricky McIntosh on the left. David Crawford continued in goals and looked set for a busy afternoon.

In a sensible world, Rangers and their full-time players would have torn Montrose apart at Ibrox. But Montrose battled hard in the early stages, Leighton McIntosh coming close and Garry Wood demonstrating why no-one refers to him as "twinkle-toed Garry Wood" when he got the ball caught in amongst his feet in front of goal.

Even in the first half, it looked as though Alan Campbell's arthritic knees could be Montrose's undoing, with Dean Shiels threatening on a couple of occasions. It therefore came as no shock when the Ulsterman opened the scoring in the 26th minute, bursting past both Campbell and Lunan to fire into the net.

What did come as a shock six minutes later was when Montrose defied the odds to equalise. The visitors won a free kick on the right, David Gray whipped in a cross and either Garry Wood or Rangers right back Anestis Argyriou (possibly the worst player I've ever seen in a Rangers shirt) headed it into the net. Wood wheeled away with a massive grin as though he'd scored it, although my first instinct was to 'award' the goal to Argyriou. Either way, it was a shock, and Ibrox muttered its discontent.

Lowly Montrose therefore disappeared up the tunnel at half time holding Rangers to a draw. The break allowed the members of the Montrose press corps (members: 2) to ponder some of life's big questions:

  • Where is Lee Wilkie?
  • Why is Stuart Garden wearing shorts?
  • Why don't Montrose give the reporters free pies and Bovril?
  • Will Terry Masson get sent off or just booked today?

The only one we felt we could reliably answer was the first, as we decided that Lee Wilkie had been eaten by Jamie Winter on the team bus. He may also have eaten Jonathan Crawford's fingers, hence the 'midfielder' (I use the term loosely) wearing a stookie for the duration of the match.

It took only nine minutes of the second half for Rangers to move back in front, Lewis MacLeod turning Young and his crazy hair in the box, blasting a shot across Crawford and into the net.

Five minutes later and the match was over as a contest, MacLeod turning provider for McCulloch, the Rangers captain poking the ball under Crawford.

I know it's tantamount to heresy in the current Rangers climate, but I've never been a massive fan of McCulloch's - I think his style of football relies too much on brawn over finesse. Now that he's been elevated to the role of skipper, there's also evidence creeping in that the position is going to his head - there were a couple of occasions where I thought he considered he should get away with things because he's the Rangers captain. Towards the end of the match, he was tripped by Scott Johnston, and the look he gave Montrose's woodpecker/striker suggested something along the lines of "Come within five feet of me again and I'll rip your heid aff you wee prick". It's not something pleasant to see in an experienced professional.

Both sides used all three subs, Rangers bringing on Fraser Aird, Robbie Crawford and Francesco Sandaza, Montrose introducing Jamie Winter ("Ah pure love Sandaza, but I couldnae eat a whole wan"), Scott Johnston and Phil McGuire. Winter was introduced to a rousing reception from Rangers' Blue Order, owing a little to his well-known love of all things Rangers. His first touch was a typically audacious 35-yard free kick that on this instance rocketed high into the Broomloan Stand.

Rangers completed the scoring with eight minutes to go, Crawford side-footing past Crawford while Crawford lumbered around doing nothing useful.

In truth, by the end Montrose were simply trying to keep the score down. I'm sure I saw Alan Campbell arguing with his legs on at least two occasions and giving himself a jump start towards the end, while Paul Lunan decided that if Jamie Winter wasn't going to eat a whole Sandaza, he'd kick it to death instead.

So Montrose could return home with their heads held high. They were beaten but not disgraced, even if they never threatened to spoil Ally McCoist's 50th birthday party. It was always going to be tough on the massive Ibrox pitch in front of 45,000 home fans, especially in the last 20 minutes against full-time players.

The novelty factor alone made it a worthwhile trip - quite how Peterhead in January will compare remains to be seen.

Man of the Match: None of the Montrose players disgraced themselves, and none could be overly disappointed with their performance. Lee Wallace gave Stephen McNally a torrid time down the Montrose right, but Rangers were less effective down the right, with Young and McIntosh generally coping well. The centre backs held the line well throughout the first half, only really toiling as the game entered its last quarter. The midfield was never over-run, which was encouraging given that they were playing against internationals. And Garry Wood was a notable success up front, keeping Emilson Cribari and Ross Perry busy throughout. Overall, I think Montrose's strongest performer was David Gray, helping to keep some of Wallace's runs in check and whipping in a perfect free kick for Montrose to equalise.

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