THE pitch may have been narrowed at Recreation Park but the gap between Rangers and Alloa is supposed to be a gulf. This was not a day when Mark Warburton would have expected to drop two points.
His Rangers side missed a ridiculous number of chances – they had 23 corners in total – and needed a late goal from Michael O’Halloran – his first for the Ibrox club – to get the draw. However, this might yet be a result that comes back to haunt them, despite Hibernian failing to take advantage yesterday.
Credit to Alloa for sticking to a game plan and while they were the benefactors of some woeful finishing, the part-time side can be proud of an intelligent performance.
It was a seriously odd display from Rangers. Too many of their best players were off their game but even taking that into account, it was just silly they didn’t win given all the shots they had on and off target.
Warburton has pulled no punches this week, laying into Alloa’s artificial pitch and their recent alterations to it, but the Ibrox manager refused to let the surface tension boil over after watching his side fall short.
“That was very frustrating, but there are no excuses,” he admitted. “Goals change games and we should have been out of sight by half-time. We reacted to their goal at least, but we should have won. The pitch made no difference, it was the same for both sets of players, it didn’t matter that it was narrowed. We had to be clinical, but we weren’t.”
Rangers began to miss opportunities within a minute. Harry Forrester should have done much better after the ball bounced up nicely for him inside the penalty box, with time and space on his side, but he sent a poor shot wide. It was a taste of things to come.
A much better effort was supplied Alloa’s Ryan Finnie on five minutes, when he sent a low shot not far wide from an angle and distance, following some decent passing from the hosts.
Within a minute, Forrester almost made amends for his early miss when, after being found by a neat Barrie McKay pass inside the box, he turned and curled the ball to graze the outside of Alloa goalkeeper Scott Gallacher’s post. Rangers had plenty of possession but Alloa did their fair share of attacking. After 15 minutes, Michael Duffy, on loan from Celtic, got behind James Tavernier on the left wing, put in a cross to the back post and Steven Hetherington’s header into the six-yard box deserved an Alloa man on the end of it; as it was, Rangers cleared their lines.
And they should have taken the lead after 17 minutes. The ball moved from Lee Wallace to Jason Holt, who found Martyn Waghorn free and inside the Alloa area, but uncharacteristically the club’s top goalscorer dragged his shot wide.
Rangers went even closer minutes later when Holt and McKay played a one-two and the former’s shot rattled the crossbar. Waghorn then put a header wide, again unmarked, from five yards after being found by Forrester’s cross.
On the touchline, Warburton wore the expression of a frustrated man. That feeling didn’t leave him on 33 minutes when Waghorn flicked wide at the near post.
Rangers could only blame themselves for going in level at half-time.
The second half started in familiar fashion. Holt made a typical run into the box, unchecked by any Alloa player, but a slight hesitation allowed Finnie to put a block in.
O’Halloran passed up a good chance, Andy Halliday put a shot wide, then missed the target again as an hour came and went with the scoreboard untroubled.
Alloa decided the time was right to strike after 61 minutes. Denied a goal when Burton O’Brien’s free-kick was met by Dougie Hill, whose header was just tipped over by Wes Foderingham for Rangers, Mitch Megginson then provided a fine delivery from the resulting corner, which Jason Marr sent into the top of the net.
Gallacher made his best save yet on 79 minutes when he came off his line to keep out O’Halloran. However, the former St Johnstone man equalised when he got on the end of a low Tavernier cross and sent an unstoppable shot into the net with seven minutes left. Alloa’s Marr cleared off the line when Tavernier’s shot beat Gallacher and the Alloa keeper saved brilliantly with two minutes left of the 90 to stop a Tavernier header that was about to dip under the bar.
Alloa put Rangers under pressure at the death and they will feel a draw was what they deserved. Home manager Jack Ross said: “We have to be delighted with a point against the team at the top. Our organisation and understanding about what we are trying to do was excellent.”