RANGERS’ first match back in the Scottish Premiership ended in a disappointing draw with Hamilton Accies at Ibrox Stadium this afternoon.
Trailing by an Ali Crawford goal to-nil at the interval, Martyn Waghorn equalised in the second half but the Light Blues couldn’t find a winner in the closing stages.
With 50,000 supporters crammed into Ibrox, Chairman Dave King was given a warm welcome by the home support prior to kick-off as he unfurled the Championship flag to officially confirm the club’s return to the top flight.
But while the festivities were a nice sideshow, Rangers set about the important business of the day – trying to win the game. And with just a minute on the clock, Kenny Miller had the ball in the net from a Martyn Waghorn cross, although the ball had trickled over the dead-ball line before the Englishman played it into Miller’s path.
It settled Gers into an early rhythm, and seconds later, Andy Halliday tested the reflexes of goalkeeper Remi Matthews with a fierce shot from the edge of the area.
To their credit, Hamilton were not here to simply have 10 men behind the ball, and while they didn’t create anything in the way of a decent chance, they enjoyed some good spells of possession in the home side’s half.
That was until the half-hour mark when they stunned Ibrox by taking a shock lead, and unfortunately again, it was a preventable goal from a Rangers point of view.
Failing on numerous opportunities to clear a drilled cross into the area, Ali Crawford was allowed space to turn and he curled a super effort into the top right-hand corner, well out of the reach of Wes Foderingham.
The shock among the crowd seemed to translate to the players on the pitch, with Gers losing their way – giving possession up too easily and failing to create any clear-cut chances.
Indeed, their only real opportunity between the Accies goal and half-time was a Waghorn free-kick on the edge of the area that clipped the outside of Matthews’ post.
The interval allowed Mark Warburton the chance to reorganise his toiling side, and they began the second half in a brighter vein.
Joey Barton saw a snapshot from the edge of the box deflected over the bar, before he had another effort cleared away this time from inside the area.
But still, Rangers couldn’t get their usual game going, and the hour mark saw the withdrawal of both Kenny Miller and Niko Kranjcar for Michael O’Halloran and Harry Forrester respectively – with Forrester going on to have an immediate impact.
With his first action of the game, he picked up the ball in midfield, charged forward and picked out an inch-perfect ball for Waghorn who had made his way into the central striker’s role with the departure or Miller.
He took a clean first touch and buried the ball underneath Matthews to send Ibrox into a mixed emotion of both relief and unbridled joy.
But that joy was very nearly short-lived as ex-Celtic man Massimo Donati brought the very best out of Foderingham after meeting a Crawford free-kick with his head six-yards from goal, with the goalkeeper flying across his goal and clawing the ball away with his right fingertips.
The action soon swung back to the other end, and Forrester came close to adding a goal to his assist, waltzing his way into the area from midfield before dragging his eventual shot wide of the target.
Rob Kiernan might have done better with a back-post header from a McKay corner kick, and then a break-out from the back from Michael O’Halloran ended with him finding only the gloves of Matthews.
Barton then sent Matthews flying through the air to divert a sweet effort of his away for a corner as the pressure continued to build, but their momentum was dealt a hammer-blow in the 83rd minute as Waghorn hit the turf with what appeared to be a hamstring injury. With all three substitutes used, Rangers would be forced to see out the remainder of the game with just 10 men.
Their depletion in numbers didn’t stop them chasing victory though, and Kiernan, still forward from a corner-kick taken seconds before, found himself unmarked in the area where he met a Lee Wallace cross, but he could only fire wide of the target.
Warburton’s boys now move on to host Peterhead at Ibrox on Tuesday in the Betfred Cup.
RANGERS: Foderingham; Tavernier, Kiernan, Hill, Wallace; Barton, Halliday (Rossiter, 76), Kranjcar (Forrester, 60); McKay, Miller (O’Halloran, 60), Waghorn.
SUBS NOT USED: Gilks, Hodson, Holt, Dodoo.
HAMILTON: Matthews, Kurakins, Devlin, Gillespie, Imrie, Docherty (Hughes, 90), D’Acol (Brophy, 44), Crawford, Longridge, Donati (Lyon, 68) Sarris.
SUBS NOT USED: Woods, Want, Cunningham, Boyd.