JAMIE LONGWORTH’S stoppage-time strike earned Stranraer a point at Ibrox and halted Rangers’ winning run which had previously stretched to 20 games in all competitions.
Lee McCulloch’s penalty on 37 minutes had given the Light Blues a slender lead at half time but having been unable to add to their advantage after the break they were punished in dramatic fashion in the final 30 seconds.
With the clocking ticking down Ally McCoist’s men looked to have done just enough to claim all three points but when the ball went across the Gers six-yard box and arrived at Longworth’s feet he showed plenty of composure to power a right foot shot high beyond Cammy Bell and into the roof of the net.
The visiting fans went wild as the Stranraer players celebrated in front of them and all the Rangers fans could do was sit in stunned silence.
After a 19-day break from competitive action their side looked rusty throughout this festive League One fixture but credit must go to the visitors for the graft they put in and the way they set about frustrating the league leaders who had Nicky Law back in their starting XI.
The cold conditions meant most fans arrived late to their seats but the early play would have warmed them as both teams started the match positively.
After just three minutes a deep cross from Clark was meant for his strike partner Jon Daly but it was Stranraer defender Mark Docherty who skewed the ball past the post with keeper David Mitchell rooted to the spot.
At the other end of the pitch a clever through pass found Longworth but his left foot effort was poor given he had scored 18 goals this season prior to today’s game.
Once again Lee Wallace was pushing forward at every opportunity and on eight minutes his jinking run took him into the visitor’s 18-yard box but his near post effort was blocked by the keeper.
Before the half hour mark the Blues shotstopper was involved in a moment of controversy with referee Andrew Dallas which left fans baffled.
A poor back pass put pressure on Mitchell and at full stretch and under pressure from Daly he elected to palm it out of his 18 yard box as opposed to trying to kick it.
At first the official looked to be letting play continue but the Govan Stand linesman flagged and Dallas quickly booked Mitchell but awarded the free-kick to Rangers outside the box.
With the Rangers players correctly insisting the infringement took place inside the box Dallas stood by his decision. With a chorus of boos reverberating around the stadium Wallace took the free kick but his shot was blocked and the ball went out for a corner.
On 37 minutes the ref again had to make a big call when he awarded Rangers a penalty and the decision infuriated Stranraer boss Stephen Aitken in the away dugout.
It was Frank McKeown who was adjudged to have pulled down Clark as he attempted to get a shot away on the spin and as soon as the ref pointed to the spot McCulloch sprinted up the pitch to get his hands on the ball.
The skipper stepped up and his penalty gave Mitchell no chance as it curled into the top corner in front of the jubilant Bears in the Broomloan Stand.
As the teams walked up the tunnel at half-time Aitken waited to have a word in Dallas’ ear about the penalty award and, to be fair, you could understand his frustration.
Into the second half and Stranraer came close to levelling with 49 minutes showing on the Ibrox scoreboards. Number 11 Andrew Stirling glided past three Rangers players as he cut inside and from 25 yards he narrowly missed the top corner of Bell’s net with a terrific shot.
On 55 minutes McCoist made a double substitution with Fraser Aird and Andy Little replacing Arnold Peralta and Clark respectively. It was Little’s first outing since he suffered a broken cheek and jaw against Dunfermline on November 6 and almost immediately he had a chance to double his side’s lead.
A crossfield ball from the left found Daly who headed it in to the Northern Ireland forward who controlled it well on his knee but his low shot went wide albeit it looked to have taken a nick off a defender.
On 64 minutes a moment of magic from Law had fans off their seats. After a clever one-two with Macleod he unleashed a sensational hit from 30 yards which clattered the underside of the cross bar before bouncing on the wrong side of the goal line.
But with just one goal separating the sides Stranraer were never out of this contest and on 77 minutes a low drive from sub David McKenna had to be watched carefully by Bell as it skimmed off the surface and into his hands.
With the clock ticking down there was an air of tension within the ground and when Rangers continued to create chances without taking any of them they were punished in the very last attack of the game.
Good wide play resulted in the ball finding its way through to Longworth who showed his confidence with a well-taken finish which provided the perfect Christmas gift for Stranraer’s travelling fans.
RANGERS (4-1-3-2): Bell; Faure, McCulloch, Mohsni, Wallace; Black; Peralta (Aird 55), Law, Macleod (Templeton 71); Clark (Little 55), Daly
SUBS: Simonsen, Foster, Cribari, Murdoch
GOALS: McCulloch 37pen
BOOKED: McCulloch, Faure
STRANRAER (4-4-2): Mitchell, Robertson, Rumsby, McKeown, Docherty; Winter (Borris 72), Bell, Gallagher, Stirling; Longworth, Grehan (McKenna 64)
SUBS: Fahey, MacGregor, Kinnaird
GOALS: Longworth 90
BOOKED: Bell, Mitchell, Robertson, McKeown
REF: Andrew Dallas