RANGERS edged closer to going through the league season unbeaten after strolling to success at Stenhousemuir with arguably their best showing for months as they passed the 100 league goals milestone.
Stenhousemuir 0 - 4 Rangers
SCORERS: Rangers; Smith 31; Shiels 36; McCulloch 65 pen; Law 78
At Somerset Park
The Ibrox side suffered a crushing disappointment last week when they lost in the Scottish Cup semi-final to Dundee United, despite a performance that was much improved from recent lacklustre displays.
Yesterday at Ochilview may not have been much in the way of compensation for that, but at least they got back to playing at an acceptable level.
Stenhousemuir are one of only two teams this season in League One to stop Rangers from winning when they grabbed a draw at Ibrox.
They were also on the end of an early season 8-0 thumping at the same venue and yesterday was more in keeping with the latter outcome.
Rangers were aided by Stenhousemuir being reduced to ten men after Robbie Duncan was sent off in the second half for tugging at Nicky Law in the penalty box. But by the time Lee McCulloch rattled in the resulting spot kick to make it 3-0, the damage was long since done.
Rangers assistant manager Kenny McDowall was satisfied with the outcome. He said: “It was a very good performance from us and I’m delighted at this stage of the season. The boys were excellent and as good as they have been all season.
“It was pleasing to pass the 100 league goals mark, it’s a difficult place to come and it possibly could have been more. But we would have taken a 4-0 win before the game. We stifled them and they couldn’t really get near our goal. We had good movement and good legs in the team.
“It’s vital we don’t ease up. We’ve brought a great support and it’s important we keep going. But they’ve done it all season and we’re delighted with that.”
Manager Ally McCoist will know this week what his budget is for next season as chief executive Graham Wallace unveils his 120-day review of the club. He will also have to decide which of his out-of-contract players to hand contracts to.
One of those sweating is Kyle Hutton, the midfielder, whose campaign has been ruined by injury. Hutton said: “This is the last year of my contract, I’m fighting for a deal so when I get my chance I need to go out and show the gaffer that I’m worthy of a new deal. Hopefully I can do that in the next few games and I’m completely focused on that.
“I need to keep performing well and see what happens. I’d like to get it sorted before I go on holiday. I broke my right leg and tore my tendons on my left so it’s been a crap season for me.”
It’s not been a “crap” season for Rangers though, certainly in terms of grinding out a relentless series of victories, and yesterday’s success was started in the 31st minute when Jon Daly nodded a throw-in across goal and the ball sat up perfectly for Smith, who fairly rattled in an unstoppable left-foot drilled shot to give the keeper no chance. It was a superb strike.
And they doubled their advantage five minutes later thanks to the vision of Law and a finish with aplomb from Shiels. The ex-Motherwell midfielder spotted Shiels’ run and threaded the ball through the home defence for the onrushing striker. Shiels was one-on-one then with the keeper and delivered a goal full of craft as he slotted the ball home with the outside of his right boot.
It was well and truly game over in the 65th minute when Duncan got caught on the wrong side of goal from Daly’s flick-on and was adjudged to have tugged at Law, who was through on goal. Referee John McKendrick flashed the red card at the full back and McCulloch easily converted the resulting spot kick.
Law grabbed that landmark 100th league goal with 12 minutes left when he cut inside from the right before curling an excellent finish around keeper Chris Smith.
Stenhousemuir manager Scott Booth had few complaints.
He admitted: “Nobody likes getting beat. I thought there were certain aspects of our play that at times were pleasing.
“The young boys worked hard but we got caught out by Rangers’ quality.”