IT wasn’t vintage. It didn’t need to be. Rangers are Championship title winners and preparing for life in the Premiership because, under Mark Warburton, they have made good on his promises to have his Ibrox team deliver energy, enterprise and entertainment.
There have been more generous helpings of all three assets across the past nine months but last night was simply all about ending their days in the lower divisions.
A 50th-minute goal from James Tavernier ensured that Rangers supporters could delight and celebrate that Ibrox will be hosting top-flight football again next season.
The four years since Rangers were liquidated and required to start again in the lowest tier of the senior game has been, perhaps, the most extraordinary story in the history of Scottish football.
It is a relief that one of the game’s biggest draws will again be providing close on a million ticket sales in the upper tier. A country as modestly sized as Scotland needs such box office.
Yet, any notion the “journey” Rangers have been on since their financial implosion of 2012 was some sort of epic odyssey makes no sense. It has been something of a botch job. Rangers failed to come straight through the divisions despite a £30million football spend. Gretna did fourth tier to first without a stutter while spending only £8m.
The fact that nearly 100,000 people will watch Rangers play two part-time sides between last night and Sunday’s Petrofac Training Cup means the fans’ loyalty must be lauded. In truth, though, when they look back on their days padding about League Two, League One and, for two years, the Championship, they will surely despair at a former owner’s out-of-control bank borrowing and dodgy tax schemes that brought their team to such a sorry state.
If Rangers had been allowed to hand-pick a team to tie up their trawl through the lower divisions then Dumbarton would have been their choice. The part-timers had shipped 12 goals in their previous three outings against Warburton’s men. No Championship opponent had proved as porous, with such defensive frailties the reason why they arrived as reluctant party guests attempting to avoid slipping down a position and into the relegation play-off place.
Warburton’s side have been a good watch this season. In terms of an upgrade on last season – when they failed in eye-watering fashion to extricate themselves from the second tier – they are like an iPhone 6s compared to a Bakelite handset. Yet, they can still frustrate and across the first 45 minutes last night there were times it felt as if they were dialling it in.
The home crowd quite rightly came to enjoy themselves, but the struggles to open up their visitors by Rangers threatened to take some of the fizz out of the festivities. The principles in their play were evident as they have been all season under Warburton: probe and pass, pass and probe. Sometimes, though, against the massed ranks of a team intent only on repelling their advances, the nudging of the ball along the 18-yard line can be over-embroidered. Pretty patterns in football need pin sharpness and Rangers could not produce that element.
It was a full 20 minutes before a clear opening was fashioned, with Harry Forrester helping the ball on to Barrie McKay, who stabbed an effort across the goalline from a tight angle. Dumbarton had a couple of breaks, but the Ibrox side’s domination of possession was otherwise Barcelona-esque.
Instinctively, they do the right things but there wasn’t sufficient cut to accompany their thrust even as they started to stretch their opponents ever more as the half wore on.
Jon Routledge clattering Andy Halliday with a wince-inducing tackle that the Dumbarton player ought to have pulled out of, roused the packed stands just after the half-hour mark.
The caution given by referee Steven McLean might have represented a let-off. Dumbarton then had several more as keeper Jamie Ewings swatted away a Tavernier free-kick before he then awkwardly blocked a Halliday hit.
Ewings started the second period proving as unbreachable, throwing himself full length to deny Billy King what seemed a certain goal, but it never felt as if he could keep up the heroics.
So it proved when Jason Holt swept right to find Tavernier eight yards from goal and in perfect position to glance the ball in for his 13th goal for the season. Such marauding might not be always what you want from your full-back but last night it was just what the support needed to find their voice.
Warburton was regaled in song, with chants of “we’re going up”. Rangers are going up, and into the great blue yonder of a top flight that has missed what the Ibrox club used to be.
It remains to be seen what kind of Rangers to which it will bear witness from next season.
Referee: Steven McLean
Rangers: Foderingham; Tavernier, Kiernan, Wilson, Wallace; King, Halliday, Holt; McKay (O’Halloran 62), Miller (Clark 86), Forrester (Shiels 78). Subs: Bell, Ball, Law, Zelalem.
Dumbarton: Ewings; Saunders, Buchanan, Wright, Docherty; Taggart, Routledge (Gallagher 60), Lindsay, Waters (Cawley 67); Fleming (McCallum 83); Nade. Subs: Brown, Heffernan, Heh.