RANGERS accomplished what they set out to do yesterday. Not as simple as it might sound when their victory over Partick Thistle was a first in five Premiership games.
The quality of their display might have been questionable – Niko Kranjcar’s sumptuous opener apart – but they are entitled to park concerns about that. Across recent weeks, the issue with Mark Warburton’s side is that they haven’t cut it in a results business. In that sense, it would be churlish first not to acknowledge that they achieved their principal objective.
In so doing, they moved up to fifth in the Premiership table. Hardly a cause for fanfare when the apparent imperative for the Ibrox club was pitching for top spot. But, on a day when Thistle caused them problems but had no penetration, they were entitled to be satisfied with the outcome. One that brought thema first league win by two clear goals since March.
Warburton had to watch the patchy display from the stand after receiving a one-match ban for his conduct towards the officials during the loss at Aberdeen the previous week. In his absence, assistant David Weir prowled the touchline alone, and afterwards conceded that the end trumped the means. “We’ve spoken the last few weeks about performances and not getting the result, and I think today it was probably more about the result than it was about the performance. Ideally you get both, but if we’re being honest, the result was probably more important,” he said.
It was achieved through a piece of brilliance from Kranjcar on the back of a sleepy half hour in which Ryan Edwards passed up a fine headed opportunity for vibrant visitors. The Croatian burst inside the penalty box, before weaving one way then the other, and then rifling an unstoppable shot roof of the net when it seemed he produced too much flourish.
Afterwards the 32-year-old proved an arch interviewee a stint at Rangers following a summer move from New York Cosmos that has provided too few match-changing moments.
“I have enjoyed it from the first day I came here,” he said. “Obviously the whole team has had its ups and downs until now but we haven’t been in the Premiership for a couple of years. But we are getting there. We’re not happy with the results from the past month but we are working hard and I still believe in this group of players and the management staff. We have a good season ahead of us, I am sure of it.”
Weir said it was up to the Rangers management to get Kranjcar “back to that level of fitness and that level of consistency” that had been responsible for the playmaker performing in World Cups and earning 81-odd caps. The former Tottenham Hotspur player maintained he is in that shape arleady.
“I have felt really good for a long time,” he said. “I have repeated it so many times - I am a footballer who when I don’t play well people say I don’t look fit. Then when I do play well people say I’m the fittest I’ve ever been. It’s something I’m used to, it doesn’t annoy me because I’ve had it since I was 17 years old. It’s part of my life.”
Kranjcar bemoaned the fact that the “nerves” brought on by having a “must win” game so earlier in the season didn’t lift even when the Ibrox side started the second half with a two-goal advantage against the league’s bottom club.
The did so because Danny Devine made a dreadful mistake in passing the ball straight to Jason Holt in the 40th minute. He fed Martyn Waghorn, who swung over a cross from the left Andy Halliday hammered in first-time from 16-yards.
Thistle manager Alan Archibald believed that it was not this moment but Chris Erskine failing to convert when appearing certain to do so in the 52nd minute, the attacker thwarted by Wes Foderingham when one-on-one with the keeper. “I thought it was going to go in,” the ball spinning off the post before the Thistle player was crowded out attempting to follow the loose ball in. “He had one similar last week he took it on his right foot. You have to take these chances that is how we are in the position we are in because we are not taking these chances. “
The afternoon’s other talking point was provided by the ponderous Philippe Senderos appearing to straight-arm Ade Azeez to the ground in an off the ball incident just shortly before Kranjcar opened the scoring. “‘He has blocked me, put it that way. He’s got me in my face,” said the former England youth international, later held back by Senderos in a challenge that did bring the defender a caution. “I’ve just got my eyes on the ball and he has just checked across me,” Azeez said of the earlier unpunished offence. “I don’t think he has his eyes on the ball but that’s football and unfortunately he got away with it.”