Rangers v Stirling Albion 23rd March 2013

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With Rangers home fixture with Stirling Albion chosen by ESPN for their Live 12 noon kick off on the Saturday afternoon it presented a unique opportunity to fit two games into the one afternoon!

It appears I wasn’t alone with this line of thinking as a few Welsh fans had a similar idea having stayed on past the International fixture at Hampden Park to watch this from the away end judging by the flags on display!

I wouldn’t proclaim to be like the next David Icke with some far out predictions, but surely something is wrong when one week from Easter you have to endure weather more akin to Moscow in December instead of a Scottish Spring!

It was a relatively early start but timed well, parking just off Shieldhall Road leaving ample time to cover the short walk down to the stadium. It’s an area I’m well aquatinted with, with my parents brought up close by and having once worked in the Ibrox area for five years some time ago.

It’s also a ground I’ve visited many times before and have sat in three of the four stands in the past. I have never sat in the seats we were allocated for this game though, which were located in the corner of the Govan and Copland Road stands.

In the build up to this match there was a possibility that Rangers could claim the Division 3 title with a victory over Stirling Albion however, the early kick off and the fact Annan Athletic v Queens Park was postponed earlier in the morning meant that any celebrations would have to wait.

The hosts lost their last home fixture to Annan Athletic a fortnight ago so there was possibly a bit of trepidation with this game. It could maybe explain the somewhat muted atmosphere inside and outside the ground as there seemed a real apathy in every aspect. From my reckoning I would say there were more than 10,000 fewer people in attendance than the official 44,608 figure suggested.

The football on display is a far cry from SPL fixtures and European ties which were the norm at Ibrox for decades. Following events from last summer which saw Rangers enter administration in the February of 2012 and then liquidation in the June, the fans have rallied to support the next generation under new owner Charles Green.

On the pitch, Manager Ally McCoist had a selection headache due to injury and suspension and started with probably only three recognisable experienced players in Neil Alexander, Lee McCulloch and Lee Wallace. He had to make do without the services of David Templeton, Dean Shiels and Andy Little through injury and Ian Black through suspension following his sending off at Elgin City last week.

The team also had striker Francisco Sandaza missing in quite odd circumstances. He was suspended by the club earlier in the week after disclosing details about his salary to someone claiming to be an agent in what transpired to be a hoax telephone call.

Stirling are one of the form sides in the Division just now having climbed off the foot of the table to a more respectable seventh place. They had Sam Filler in goals with the experience of Jamie McCunnie in defence and Mark Ferry in midfield. Young Jordan White played as the main striker with Scott Davidson partnering him up front and they proved a handful throughout.

When the game got under way there wasn’t much between the teams but it was Rangers who carved out the best opening in six minutes. Kane Hemmings was leading the front line wearing the number nine shirt and was back at Ibrox following a recent loan spell at Cowdenbeath. He held the ball up before slipping it into the box for the on rushing Lee Wallace to collect however, Albion’s ‘keeper, Filler stood up well to block his shot.

From a Barrie McKay cross out on the right wing, Hemmings’ header went over the bar when he should have hit the target at the very least. Minutes later he then mis-hit a shot wide of Filler’s left hand post when put through on goal and again he should have done a lot better.

Stirling were impressively composed on the ball when they had it and looked to retain possession and not panic. Their first real chance to threaten the Rangers goal came five minutes before the break from a Davidson corner on the far side reached Jordan White first and his headed effort was goal bound only for Fraser Aird to head off the line.

At this point I did notice a lot of fans criticising a couple of the younger players and this was maybe down to frustration in some instances given the two or three decent goal scoring opportunities that weren’t taken earlier in the game.

Midway through the first half I thought I was seeing things when the Rangers centre half, Emilson Cribari ducked to avoid the ball when he should have attacked it! With defending like this it is not surprising the amount of goals the team have conceded this season.

Albion came even closer right on the stroke of half time when the two strikers combined again but this time the roles were reversed. Jordan White found himself breaking down the right and his cross was delivered to the back post where Davidson controlled with his chest before firing just over the bar. He was under pressure from the onrushing Neil Alexander but given the time and space he maybe could have done better. The home fans made their feelings known as they booed the team off the pitch as the half time whistle went.

Rangers started the brighter of the two sides in the second half and went close when Fraser Aird’s low shot from outside the box was turned round the post for a corner by Sam Filler. The home side had linked well in patches during the first half but this seemed to be absent in the second and they gave away possession quite cheaply at times. On one such occasion they were nearly punished when Aird was too casual in trying to pick out Lee Wallace. Stirling broke down the right flank and Alexander had to react to a mis-hit shot from Davidson.

A good run and cross from Rangers’ Robbie Crawford on the right hand side was initially blocked and on the follow up he managed to square for Hemmings who fired just wide of the ‘keeper’s left hand post. In an attempt to get a winner, Rangers introduced Kal Naismith and Anestis Argyriou for Barrie McKay and Fraser Aird.

Stirling Albion continued to frustrate and worked extremely hard in closing down the ball when they didn’t have it while looking dangerous on the counter attack. I can only assume that Scott Davidson was substituted just after the hour due to being on a yellow card as he was the key to the majority of Albion’s best moves.

The game fizzled out as fans drifted to the exits and the only other notable chance came in injury time when Argyriou’s diving header went wide of the right hand post. The game ended goalless and again the fans who were left in the stadium let their feelings known with a chorus of booing! Since going round the grounds over the last six months we had yet to encounter a 0-0 game until today. I suppose with the law of averages we had to get one somewhere along the way, I just never expected it to be at this venue!

Despite events at Ibrox in the last twelve months the stadium remains an impressive structure. Composing of four modern stands, the significant change made to it being the ‘Club Deck’ which was like an extension built on top of the main stand in the early 1990’s. A couple of the corner areas have been filled in over the years which have provided more seating and increased the capacity slightly.

The away support is allocated the corner between the Broomloan Road and Govan stands apart from when Celtic visit as their fans are allocated the full Broomloan end. Given the current gulf in divisions between them, the only way the two clubs are likely to meet each other would be in domestic cup competition.

Each stand provides a decent view of the pitch apart from experience of the higher up seating in the Club Deck. The seats we were in for this game were low down it was hard to make the players at times out on the far side touchline against the dark blue seats in the main stand.

The match programme is a good read for home fans with plenty of pictures of games and players past and present. If there was any criticism to make it would be that there is absolutely no details on the opposition outwith both squads listed on the back page.

Ibrox has played host to many famous matches over the years for domestic, European and international football. The fans have bought into the new owner’s vision for the future and bought season tickets to support the club following liquidation last summer, but it may be some time yet before the club experiences a full house for a significant high profile game.

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