ANDY LITTLE and Darren Cole returned from injuries as Rangers lost 3-1 to Morton at Murray Park in the SFL Reserve League.
The game itself didn’t bring many highs as Dylan McLauchlin, Lewis Hawke and Aiden Fulton goals swung it in the Greenock side’s favour despite Andy Mitchell’s late consolation.
But as Cole completed 90 minutes following an ankle problem and Little appeared for the second 45 following a stress fracture of his foot, those were positives for the Light Blues.
Manager Ally McCoist will now wait to see if there is any reaction to playing from the players before deciding whether they are ready for first-team comebacks.
He will be keen in particular to get Little into the group for Saturday’s match with Queen’s Park at Ibrox given his lack of striking options.
David Templeton and Francisco Sandaza are both still sidelined but having the Northern Ireland international available again will be a clear boost.
The sides went into this match sitting second and third in the table, with Morton’s perfect record and superior goal difference having them just ahead of Gers.
As you’d expect from a meeting of two sides at the top end of the standings, the first half was fairly tight with few chances.
The Light Blues made just one change to the side that beat Airdrie 4-3 with three goals in the final eight minutes last week as Cole replaced Andy Murdoch in the first XI.
And the settled look Tommy Wilson’s side had shone through as it enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening exchanges.
Robbie Crawford might have scored just two minutes in after a terrific run which took him away from three players.
But rather than take on the shooting chance himself, he chose to pass inside to Kevin Kyle instead and his attempt was deflected behind.
Kal Naismith also looked to have an opportunity after good build-up play resulted in a decent knock down from Kyle.
But this time the forward, a double scorer last time out against the Diamonds, was flagged offside when he had just the goalkeeper to beat.
Naismith did have another opportunity when he received a free kick from Kyle Hutton and squeezed between two men then into the box but his drive was again deflected off course.
As time went on, Morton began to settle more and a lot of their play ran through midfielder Tony Wallace.
He had three chances to net before the break, the first two being easily smothered by home keeper Scott Gallacher and the third running well wide of the target.
But where he failed, McLauchlin succeeded as he put the visitors ahead seven minutes before the midway point.
Kyle was unlucky as he tried to head a corner away and saw it deflect off an attacking head then back into the mix.
McLauchlin reacted quickest to the loose ball and poked it goalwards, with his effort just squirming over the line through Cole’s legs at the near post.
With Gers trailing, coach Wilson threw Little on for Kamil Wiktorski in a bid to bring a more positive approach to his side’s play.
But it was Francesco Stella who had the first chance after the restart as he cut inside and drove over from long range.
Morton very nearly made it two when Hawke found space at the back post and while the flag went up as he inexplicably shot over, it was a big let off for Rangers.
For all that, the warning appeared to go unheeded as Hawke again got in the right place to crack a shot on the turn off the post moments later.
Kyle tried to provide a response as he got up well to meet Stella’s cross but his header was just off range.
And that proved costly when another bizarre strike saw Ton double their advantage just after the hour mark.
It seemed Luca Gasparotto had done enough to clear the danger when Wallace’s cross fizzed into the box.
But he looked on in despair as Hawke got in the way and the ball smacked off him and spun into the net to make it 2-0.
Trailing by that scoreline for the third week running, it remained to be seen what would happen next given one previous match had been lost then the other one won.
With 13 minutes to go, substitute Murdoch saw the goal open up for him and had he scored it would have been game on once again.
He steered a foot beyond the woodwork though and it seemed defeat was on the cards for the second time this season.
But then, with eight minutes remaining, a short Hutton free kick was drilled home by Andy Mitchell from 18 yards and Gers were back in the contest.
Little connected really well as he drove goalwards but away keeper David Hutton got down well to save before he turned another shot from the Ulsterman behind.
Another cross from Mitchell was wayward as a stack of players queued up in the middle waiting and with that the chance to equalise was away.
To add insult to injury, sub Fulton then clinched victory in injury time with a lovely rising attempt from 25 yards to make it 3-1.
Winning sees Morton continue to set the pace in the 14-team competition with five wins from as many games. They’re three points ahead of Gers, who have played once more.
RANGERS: S Gallacher; Cole, Gasparotto, Hegarty, Mitchell; Wiktorski (Little 46), Hutton, Crawford; Naismith (Murdoch 75), Kyle, Stella (C Gallacher 59).