Hamilton’s Ali Crawford tempers Rangers’ return to the top flight

Joey Barton applauds fans as he is substituted

Perhaps the frustrations of the last four years put this result into context for Rangers.

The failure to defeat Hamilton Academical in the match which marked the Ibrox club’s return to Scotland’s top flight clearly was not in the plan but the general applause at full-time suggested an appreciation of what work must still be done. Not so long ago, such a result would be met with howls of derision from packed stands.

Mark Warburton, the Rangers manager, will insist this draw provided only credence to his claim that much work is required before his team can launch a legitimate challenge to Celtic. Warburton watched his players dominant long spells of possession here but, to their detriment, huff and puff. Hamilton were not exactly clinging on for dear life in the dying stages, as they took delivery of a well-earned point.

Illustrations of the lingering resentment felt in these parts towards treatment of Rangers around the time of liquidation was apparent before kick-off. Neil Doncaster, the chief executive of the SPFL, was roundly booed as he took to the field for the presentation of the Championship flag. A banner bearing the slogan “Back by unpopular demand” was unfurled behind one goal.

The atmosphere soon turned towards one of expectation. Rangers’ opening heightened that; they had already seen a goal disallowed for the ball running out of play before Andy Halliday stung the palms of Remi Matthews with a fierce shot from 18 yards. Only three minutes had been played.

Yet through a combination of Hamilton finding their feet and a lack of attacking imagination of their own, Rangers lost their way. The home midfield, featuring Niko Kranjcar and Joey Barton, was heavy-legged.

Hamilton duly opened the scoring with a stunning Ali Crawford finish. The diminutive forward escaped a Kranjcar challenge, spun around and left Wes Foderingham helpless. Ibrox fell silent; it was not supposed to happen this way, after all.

A Warburton substitution turned matters Rangers’ way. Kranjcar and Kenny Miller had been withdrawn on the hour mark, Harry Forrester and Michael O’Halloran introduced with the obvious aim of adding pace to a stagnant display. The move paid instant dividends, Forrester playing a cross right to the feet of the prolific Martyn Waghorn, who scored with a first-time effort underneath the onrushing Matthews.

For all the tide had turned, Hamilton almost edged in front again. It took a terrific Foderingham save to deny Massimo Donati’s low header just a minute after Rangers had equalised. Forrester replied with an attempt of his own, which flashed only narrowly wide.

For all that was to be Hamilton’s last meaningful foray forward, Rangers still had cause for anxiety. Waghorn, completely unchallenged, collapsed to the ground whilst holding his right hamstring with eight minutes to play. The striker played no further part in the match, with Rangers already having used all three substitutes by that juncture. Any lengthy absence for the former Sunderland and Wigan player would pose Warburton with a serious problem.

The 10 men did not lack effort but quality was in short supply. Just because the road back to the top was long, Rangers have not reached ready-made status yet.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Ewan Murray at Ibrox, for The Observer on Saturday 6th August 2016 14.56 Europe/London

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