AS Easter Road became awash with Raith Rovers jubilation, the Rangers contingent couldn’t quite believe their eyes.
The Fifers had gatecrashed the post-match presentation that was meant for the Light Blues. The celebrations that the Old Firm giants are accustomed to. They arrived hotly-tipped, they left badly burnt.
It may have been a dream come true for Raith. For their illustrious counterparts, it was the nearest experience to a living nightmare. It just didn’t go according to plan.
Not for the first time, the Gers were humbled by the eventual Challenge Cup winners, having succumbed on spotkicks to Queen of the South last term.
For much of this season and last, underwhelming displays have been enough to get them over the line in the lower leagues. In cup finals, an extra 50% is needed from each and every individual. Rangers just did not reach the levels required – and were punished.
The damning assessment of the display may be harsh however the illustrious history, tradition and cornerstone of this famous football club, who take pride in setting high standards, must be revered. It was not a Rangers performance.
Penalties loomed large when John Baird capitalised on suspect defending to settle a disappointing spectacle in the dying embers of extra-time. Such a dramatic finish seemed almost impossible, as did the final outcome.
The implications of the damaging defeat have not yet been felt. The endless questions, the mounting pressure and the week of gloom that will lie ahead.
By the time the runners-up medals were distributed, most of the 14,000 Gers fans had already disappeared down Albion Road pondering the consequences.
The players watched on disconsolately from the tunnel surrounds, allaying the distraight expression of a squad awaiting the post-mortem deliberations and media criticism.
When the competition rolled out in July, only one name was likely to end up on the trophy after a comfortable 4-0 win for the second-string Ibrox side at Albion Rovers. But silverware does not come gift-wrapped.
Ally McCoist and sidekick Ian McDowall respectably applauded their opponents. A magnanimous gesture in defeat or an acceptance of fate, read into it what you will.
McCoist has never won an SPL title as Gers boss – and cannot be held in the same highest regard as Neil Lennon at Celtic until that particular feat has been achieved – but failure in cup competitions is an experience that has become all too familiar in recent years.
Three Scottish Cup exits in four years to Dundee United (including a 3-0 reverse last term), painful League Cup losses to Inverness and Falkirk as well as lifeless European humblings at the first hurdle. Not an inspiring track record whatsoever.
From the outside looking in, many will expect a Championship side should prevail against League One opposition – on paper anyway. Those with any ounce of realism would think differently.
Climbing back up the league ladder to their rightful place at the top takes precedence but this provided the opportunity to claim some cup glory along the way.
From the off the Gers were never at the races, taking too many touches on the ball, generating a sluggish tempo and lacking any sense of urgency.
Ian Black and Kyle Hutton were obtusely pedestrian in midfield, Jon Daly could not get amongst the Raith back four and Fraser Aird was never a troublesome threat down the flanks.
Only Stevie Smith offered any hope with sporadic bursts of pace and energy, and the odd menacing setpiece.
But their dominance in possession never allowed a cautious Raith to gain a foothold as clear-cut opportunities were extremely limited.
A marginal improvement brought renewed optimism in the second half but the ruthless clinical streak was missing to convert the few openings created.
Despite possessing the greater threat, Lee Robinson wasn’t overworked between the sticks which was always the worry for McCoist as the Gers were left to regret their woeful profligacy. Bilel Mohsni will be particularly reflective of two spurned headers – one in each half. Both ending up in orbit when finding the net looked easier.
Losing Lee Wallace to injury was a blow but when the Scottish international was withdrawn, McCoist bewilderingly switched Richard Foster to left-back and introduced Sebastian Faure rather than move Stevie Smith back into defence and bring on a forward.
Raith kept plugging away, nevertheless, and had chances of their own as their resurgence grew in strength.
The Gers turned up the heat as extra-time drew to a close but never looked like breaching the Raith rearguard – and one lapse proved costly as Mohsni could not stay on his feet.
Baird reacted quickest to spark pandemonium among the 4,000 strong support from Kirkcaldy behind the goal, leaving the Light Blues wondering what might have been.
In what was always going to be a high-profile event with Rangers in town, the occasion did not live up to its potential with a less than engaging narrative.
Should you be one of those passing it off as a poor competition and a poor final competed by two poor teams, that argument was certainly justified.
Lifting the troops for a Scottish Cup semi-final will come naturally to McCoist, who will be astutely aware that a similar showing against Dundee United next weekend could take their troubles to another level.
With home advantage and a coveted place in the Celtic Park final at stake, the Gers will be desperate to deliver and exorcise the demons of another cup disaster on McCoist’s watch.