FOR Brechin and tiny Glebe Park yesterday, the visit of Rangers was akin to the circus coming to town for the day.
It did not take long, however, for the grim reality of the Ibrox side's current predicament to take hold.
By the time this game headed into extra time, the grey overhead skies threatened to drown the spirit of optimism that the Ibrox club and their supporters had headed into the significant encounter with.
It took a late Lee McCulloch bundled effort for Rangers to survive the tie, a goal and 2-1 victory that was greeted only with relief by a support who have previously feasted at far grander tables.
The entire afternoon was bizarre, unconventional and entirely out of the ordinary – yet for Rangers, the entirety of this season will be spent as the freakish entertainment for punters to roll up and take in.
The fall from grace of one of the game's giants was complete when Carlos Bocanegra led the Ibrox side from the mouth of a cramped tunnel to begin the fight for the hitherto little- recognised Ramsdens Cup.
And yet, as surreal as it all was, if anything underlined the tumultuous summer that Rangers and Scottish football have just endured, it was the fact that yesterday's events in Brechin at least bore some resemblance to a return to normality.
Ally McCoist, at least, could concern himself with matters of a football nature.
Squeezed into the ground, the visiting support did not disappoint with their own colourful performance.
One acrobat even decided to shimmy up a floodlight in order to better conduct the Rangers choir (with his shoe).
McCoist's side lined up for the historic day with seasoned internationalists Dorin Goian and Bocanegra, as well as a smattering of players who have endured much after the demise of the old club.
McCulloch, Kirk Broadfoot, Lee Wallace, Neil Alexander and Andy Little all started, the latter making his mark and a little bit of history early doors.
There were also introductions for Barrie McKay and Lewis MacLeod, products of the Murray Park ranks. Both showed willingness and ability but were frequently undone by a lack of experience in key areas.
The new attraction of Ian Black was paraded at the heart of the Ibrox midfield, with the player's former sins against Gers already forgiven.
Warmly welcomed, Black's luminous pink boots ensured he did not go missing for long, although some of his finishing highlighted the fact he has barely kicked a ball for the past few months.
The game itself was almost secondary to the fact that Rangers were there at all.
Their membership to Scottish football was granted only at the last minute and, while yesterday's game had a novelty feel about it, the gritty reality of lower-league football will not take long to bite; just ask those supporters who spent the bulk of the second period exposed to the continual rain.
Rangers had begun on Easy Street, when Little netted the momentous landmark first goal for the new Rangers regime, latching on to a McCulloch pass straight through the heart of the Brechin defence, rounding the keeper and dinking the ball into the bottom corner.
From then on it all seemed straightforward enough. Rangers, as you would expect, dominated. McCulloch had a penalty shout waved away, and the Ibrox side peppered Brechin's goal.
The only event that raised an eyebrow was when a clearance landed on top of the hedge that runs the length of the Glebe Park pitch and had to be shaken down by the punters who stood below.
There was little to suggest it would be anything other than straightforward. And then, as the game headed towards the interval, Brechin suddenly found themselves level.
Kirk Broadfoot's glancing header wasn't covered by Goian, allowing home striker Andy Jackson to nip in and slot behind Alexander.
As the game wore on and Rangers sensed an embarrassing custard pie, the second period held a tension where the first half had carried only an air of a jolly in the sun.
There were shrieks of genuine outrage when Rangers claimed handball against Brechin defender Paul McLean, while missed chances by both Black and MacLeod were met with frustrated laments on and off the pitch.
But Rangers dug in and, as a penalty shootout began to edge on to the horizon, McCulloch could slap a weary hand to the crest of his sodden jersey in celebration at his winner.
On this evidence, the road ahead may not be as straightforward as many predict.
The main league show kicks off a week on Saturday with a long journey to Peterhead where the Rangers showmen will find the mat rolled out for a similar welcome.
RANGERS MAN BY MAN
By CHRIS JACK
ALEXANDER (6) Was untroubled. But would have been disappointed to be beaten at his front post as Andy Jackson levelled.
BROADFOOT (5) Eager to get forward but unconvincing at the back at times. Poor header allowed Jackson a run at goal for equaliser.
BOCANEGRA (6) He was handed the captain's arm band. Steady, although Brechin caused the Gers backline more problems than many expected.
GOIAN (5) Had a couple of shaky moments. Too easily beaten by Jackson as he fired Brechin level.
WALLACE (7) Put in a tireless shift on the left, impressing in defence and attack. Final ball not always clinical enough but was one of the Gers' standout men.
BLACK (7) Gave a typically combative performance. Tried to influence proceedings as much as possible but lack of fitness began to show.
McKAY (5) Started brightly down the left with direct running. Faded as the game wore on.
MacLEOD (5) Could have made himself a hero late on in normal time but spurned a great chance from 12 yards.
HUTTON (6) Started as the deepest of Rangers' midfield men but tried to drive his side on as extra time loomed. Neat and tidy in possession.
LITTLE (5) Gave Rangers the perfect start with a well-taken goal after just four minutes but struggled to assert thereafter.
McCULLOCH (6) Given a berth at the head of the attacking alongside Little and his impact proved crucial. Neat pass set up his strike partner for the opener before header clinched the win.
NAISMITH (for McKay 95) (3) Did his best to get involved on debut.
CRAWFORD (for Little 110) (2) Handed late cameo as Gers saw the game out.