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Sunday, 21 December 2014

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Annan show they can compete with Glasgow giants Rangers

For a few fleeting moments caretaker manager Euan Brydson admitted he’d dared to dream his Annan Athletic players were on the brink of bringing Rangers to their knees and securing him the job full-time.

When Ally Love’s fortuitous 36th-minute equaliser nestled into the net to the shock of everyone including the young winger himself, it looked as if the home side minnows might shock their illustrious opponents in front of the TV cameras.

But by the end it was business as usual for the Glasgow giants who stretched their lead at the Scottish Third Division summit to 17 points with a predictable, if unpretty victory, while things are slightly less clear-cut for Brydson, who must wait another two weeks to see if he will be handed the role permanently.

Brydson, whose record is now draw, win, defeat since taking interim charge following the resignation of Harry Cairney two weeks ago, faces strong competition for the job but has probably not done his chances any harm as losing to the runaway leaders is hardly a calamitous result.

“Going toe-to-toe with a full-time team was always going to be difficult, but people seeing the game would agree we were more than a match for them,” said Brydson.

“I’m disappointed we lost but I’m happy with the performance. We had chances and we could have got something from the game.

“Just before we conceded the second goal I turned to the bench and said we were getting into the game.

“But after that the boys responded again and we had two or three really good chances. On another day they might have gone in and we would have made a really good game of it.

“The level of performance and belief in the dressing-room that we could have got something out of the game are the most pleasing things. Collectively, they all worked hard and that’s all you can ask as manager.

“The club has decisions to make about who is going to be in charge. That’s out of my control but whoever takes over as manager, whether it’s me or someone else, is picking up players who want to do well and want to kick on and try to make the play-offs.”

The scoreline suggests a swagger that wasn’t there for the visitors – in fact, it was two poorly conceded goals that cost Annan, rather than any memorable flashes of inspiration from Rangers, whose performance at times was sluggish and strewn with passing errors.

Annan were no feeble foes and for long spells they frustrated their opponents, but while Rangers’s performance might have been as wet as the weather, it was still enough to secure them an 11th straight win.

Such is the gap between Rangers’ full-time professionals and the rest of the part-time clubs in Division Three that they can have an off-day but still maintain momentum.

Whether Ally McCoist was frustrated at how his players huffed and puffed for 90 minutes, disappointed with the level of performance or embarrassed that they hadn’t looked more commanding, we’ll never know as the Rangers manager left the post-match press debrief to Ibrox No2 Kenny McDowall.

“We’re delighted as it was a great three points in difficult conditions,” said McDowall.

“We had to make a few changes and the boys who came in did really well. It’s not an easy place to come but we’ve got the points so it went well.”

Rangers will probably be glad to see the back of Galabank, which has not proved the easiest of venues to come to and secure victory.

But at least David Templeton enjoyed a happier return yesterday, after the winger was carried off with ankle ligament damage, blamed on the 3G pitch, when Rangers drew 0-0 at Annan in September.

Templeton opened the scoring and then helped round it off when his 25-yard strike was deflected home in a slapstick moment by Annan defender Harry Monaghan on his second appearance for the club after joining them on loan last week from Hibs.

But, credit to Annan, they looked purposeful and positive from the first whistle, forcing two corners in the opening two minutes and showing no sign of early nerves.

Michael Daly had their first chance when a great passing move from the back saw the Annan striker try his luck with a shot but it was deflected away for a corner by Rangers keeper Neil Alexander.

And they were confident at the other end of the pitch, too, with keeper Alex Mitchell comfortably dealing with a shot from Templeton and another from Andy Little.

But the former Carlisle United youth team keeper’s stubborn resistance was broken on 25 minutes in the most frustrating manner.

Darren Cole’s long ball over the top of the home defence put Francisco Sandaza through and, after Mitchell pushed the Spaniard’s shot away, Templeton picked up the loose ball on the left wing and ran into the box to unleash a cross-cum-shot which drifted past the Annan keeper into the net.

Annan hadn’t finished cursing their luck before it was nearly 2-0 when Sandaza spurned a to-die-for chance.

Templeton’s inswinging corner found him completely unmarked four yards out with the goal at his mercy but his downward header ricocheted off the surface and onto the bar.

It was a costly miss and things then got a whole lot worse for Rangers as the balance of play suddenly swung towards Annan.

Love cheekily dispossessed Cole on the left on 35 minutes and raced clear before dispatching a cross from the tightest of angles that sailed over Alexander’s head and nestled in the back of the net.

Love ran to the corner flag to be mobbed by his team-mates in a moment for Annan to savour.

At this merry moment no one will have begrudged the plucky home side their moment of joy. They’ve been through the emotional wringer this season with boss Harry Cairney quitting for personal reasons and then Brydson taking over with the side on a five-match losing run.

Stephen Sloan shot wide from 20 yards while Rangers were still digesting their half-time cuppas before the visitors took control.

Yet, despite the amount of possession they enjoyed and chances created, Rangers made hard work things, with Sandaza, Ian Black and Robbie Crawford all missing chances.

But they eventually managed to deliver the telling blow on 63 minutes when the Annan defence failed to clear Templeton’s cross and Crawford smashed the ball into the bottom corner from 12 yards.

Little, a target for Carlisle United last summer, set up a chance for Sandaza but Mitchell bravely blocked at the big striker’s feet, before at the other end, Daly’s header was held by Alexander.

Annan’s hearts were broken again with a slapstick goal. Black played the ball to Templeton, whose 25-yard effort was goal-bound, but Monaghan stuck out a leg and deflected it into the back of the net. The youngster’s reaction, head in hands, told the story.

The home side’s eventual surrender did not, however, detract from a battling display and in the wider picture Annan and their caretaker boss will draw plenty of positives from their performance ahead of Saturday’s trip to Clyde.

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