Rangers manager Mark Warburton last night expressed his exasperation and bewilderment at the bizarre dismissal of midfielder Andy Halliday in his team’s 2-0 win over Morton at Cappielow.
The victory which re-opened a five-point lead over Hibs at the top of the Championship for the Ibrox side was overshadowed by Halliday’s sending-off with 20 minutes remaining.
Three minutes after being booked for a foul on Declan McManus, Halliday was shown a second yellow card by referee Barry Cook for punching the air in the direction of supporters while celebrating Barrie McKay scoring Rangers’ second goal.
Rangers successfully appealed another controversial dismissal for Halliday following a clash with Fraser Fyvie of Hibs at Ibrox last month, but have no means to contest last night’s decision as it was two yellow cards.
Halliday will now be suspended for Rangers’ next league game against Falkirk at Ibrox on Saturday.
Warburton, his voice dripping in sarcasm, made no attempt to disguise his dismay at Cook’s decision which was made on the advice of assistant David McKniff who was in front of the “cowshed” section of the ground housing Morton fans.
“I’ve been told that the player was sent off for making an offensive gesture which had incited the Morton fans,” said Warburton.
“I’m sure you’ve all seen it. We’ve all seen it. The player made that fatal mistake of celebrating the second goal. It was scandalous behaviour on his part.
“We will look at it and say all he has done is shown his passion for the game and passion for the club.
“We scored a second goal and you have to enjoy it. You have to enjoy football. Make sure you enjoy the nice moments. And the nice moments are getting a second goal at a very tough venue.
“We have watched it from every angle and we are bemused and frustrated, whatever adjective you want to use. That’s how we feel.
“We have lost an important player to a second yellow and you can’t appeal for what we find the most frustrating decision.”
Warburton was less than enamoured by his team’s display, in which they ground out the win with goals by Kenny Miller and McKay.
“The overall performance was a six out of ten and the players know that,” he said. “But sometimes the term is ‘win ugly’ or whatever you want to call it.”
Warburton declined to offer any update on Rangers’ pursuit of St Johnstone forward Michael O’Halloran in the wake of two failed bids for the player.
“Who?” he replied. “Let’s be honest, he is not our player. I’m not going to talk about other clubs’ players. We hope to get one or two in before the window closes – sometimes they happen quickly, sometimes they take more time. We are getting there, making progress.”
Morton manager Jim Duffy was content with his team’s contribution and felt Rangers’ first goal should have been disallowed for offside after his defender Lee Kilday inadvertently knocked the ball into Miller’s path. The Greenock side also had a penalty claim turned down for handball against Rob Kiernan when 1-0 down.
“The first goal was a big turning point for us,” said Duffy. “I think it was the wrong decision, I think it was offside. That meant we then had to chase the game and Rangers could play on the counter attack.
“I’ve not seen our penalty claim again but the players are adamant it was a handball. But for me the first goal was the bigger turning point and the referee got it wrong.”