Three times now Rangers have faced the might of Inverness Caledonian Thistle this season and three times they have failed to beat them.

It would be surely of little consolation to Smith that at least, unlike the previous two encounters, Rangers didn’t lose this one even if it must have felt that way.

Rangers, in all honesty, could only blame themselves for not securing the victory that was widely expected of them.

An early Charlie Adam free kick and the dismissal of Inverness captain Darren Dods seemed to set the platform for the Light Blues to go on and rack up a comprehensive victory but instead what followed was a lacklustre display against 10 men.

As Rangers continued to pass up a series of half-chances an equaliser remained a possibility and it duly arrived nine minutes from time, Craig Dargo sending the small band of travelling supporters into rapture.

News that Aberdeen had beaten Kilmarnock at Rugby Park to reduce the gap between second and third to just five points only added to the disappointment that reverberated around Ibrox at full-time.

Smith had named the same starting line-up as defeated Aberdeen 3-0 at Ibrox a fortnight ago.

It meant Sasa Papac kept his place ahead of Ugo Ehiogu, partnering David Weir in the heart of the defence.

Ehiogu has to settle for a place on the bench alongside the returning Kevin Thomson and Lee Robinson. 

Rangers looked in the mood early on – it wouldn’t last – and should have gone in front after just six minutes. Dado Prso and Kris Boyd combined to send Barry Ferguson through on goal but keeper Michael Fraser did well to block the skipper’s shot from close range.

Inverness Caley were looking to earn their third successive win over Rangers this season but their cause was made all the much harder when they were reduced to 10 men and then fell behind in the space of 60 seconds.

Dods, their captain, was the man sent off for hauling back Boyd as he made a beeline towards the Caley goal and, to rub salt in to the wounds, Adam further punished them by curling the resulting free kick past the static Fraser.

It was a quite exquisite strike and one you would have been hearing about for weeks had the scorer been Japanese instead of a stocky Scottish kid from Dundee.

It seemed to lay the foundations for Rangers to progress and have a second successive league match wrapped up by the break but instead they laboured to create many openings.

An Ian Murray volley that fizzed over was the closest they came to extending their lead before half-time as Caley, with Stuart McCaffrey on for Markus Paatelainen to re-establish a full quota of defenders following Dods’ dismissal, resolutely dug in to deny Rangers.

Taking advantage of a set-piece seemed the visitors’ most likely way of causing any palpitations to Allan McGregor and his defence and they almost did so after 36 minutes, Grant Munro heading wide after escaping Boyd’s attentions to connect with John Rankin’s deep corner.

The languid nature of the match progressed deep into the second half as Inverness continued to stifle Rangers’ attacking intentions.

Prso headed wide from Alan Hutton’s cross but there was little else to rouse the crowd from their slumber in the hazy spring sunshine.

Fraser added to the sense of frustration with another fine stop to keep out Boyd’s thump goalwards after the striker had fastened on to Prso’s headed flick as the second, killer goal continued to elude Rangers.

When Boyd then scooped a half-chance high over the crossbar the groans echoed all around the stadium. Rangers were making hard work of this.

It could have been worse had McGregor not been alert, just, to tip over Russell Duncan’s 40-yard free kick and if Caley had been awarded a penalty when Alan Hutton, in an otherwise outstanding display, seemed to climb all over Graham Bayne in the Rangers box.

A goal for the visitors, however, was coming and it duly arrived. Neither Papac nor Murray ably dealt with a deep cross into the box allowing Craig Dargo the space to squeeze an effort beyond McGregor.

The late Rangers rally was inevitable but ultimately was as ineffective as everything that had preceded it.

RANGERS: McGregor, Hutton, Weir, Papac, Murray, Novo (Burke 67), Hemdani, Ferguson, Adam, Prso (Sebo 81), Boyd

Subs not used:Robinson, Thomson, Ehiogu, McMillan, Shinnie

Booked: Novo (62), Adam (88)

ICT: Fraser, Tokely, Dods, Munro, Hastings, Duncan, Hart (Wilson 73), Rankin, Paatelainen (McCaffrey 21), Dargo (McSwegan 90), Bayne

Subs not used: Ridgers, Soane, Sutherland, McAllister

Booked: Wilson (77)

Sent off: Dods (14)

Ref: William Collum

Att: 50,278

Star Man

Alan Hutton

Solid at the back, productive going forward

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