THIS was a day all about penalties for Rangers. They paid the big one for the fall into administration when the ten points they had been deducted as a result allowed Celtic to wrap up the SPL title so early in the campaign.
Then at Ibrox yesterday they missed two and conceded one before Kyle Lafferty succeeded where Sone Aluko and Lee McCulloch had failed, from the spot, to ensure that at least the fans had a win to celebrate.
In a bizarre afternoon, their Old Firm rivals were probably still being clapped off the pitch at Rugby Park where they had just secured the league trophy but at Ibrox the home fans were instead applauding a banner proclaiming the Rangers’ support’s opposition to the liquidation of their club.
This is a club which has long accepted that, for now, there are more important things than finishing top of the league. Big-screen adverts again gave details of how to donate to the Fighting Fund, while the fans unfurled what they hoped was an ominous a message, warning: “Ignore us at your peril. Sink us and we’ll sink you. Say no to newco. Rangers fans say no to liquidation”.
With three bids in, the administrators are now deciding whether the Blue Knights/Ticketus consortium, American Bill Miller or the Far East consortium led by Bill Ng should be granted preferred bidder status. All three have said the ideal way forward would be through a CVA but none have absolutely ruled out the prospect of wiping the slate clean through liquidation.
But the banners were not the only protest. There was also the orchestrated showing of red cards as the players took to the pitch, then again in the 18th and 72nd minutes as a reminder of the club’s 140 year history and making it clear to those in charge of the club’s future that they would revile anything that would jeopardise adding to that.
Apparently, the administrators weren’t at the game, but more encouragingly for the home contingent, neither was the St Mirren defence in the opening moments. With just a minute gone, Lee McCulloch soothed some of the pain being felt by the home support by launching himself at a Steven Davis cross to head past Craig Samson and give Rangers the lead.
After that they might as well have settled the match with a penalty shoot-out as the referee Willie Collum awarded four spot kicks.
While Rangers were trying to decide on their best formation, trying three at the back before moving Kyle Bartley from his midfield holding role to right back. They also had to jiggle things about in the eighth minute when Davis was taken off with a slight groin strain and was replaced by young Rhys McCabe.
But they had the perfect opportunity to settle themselves in the tenth minute, with the first penalty decision of the afternoon. While Steven Thomson pointed the finger at his team-mate Mark McAusland afterwards, angry that Maurice Edu had been allowed to make up so much ground and get a free run across the box, it was the former who ultimately felled the Rangers midfielder.
Aluko was the man who shouldered the responsibility for taking the award, though. He will wish he hadn’t as it came back off the post and the chance was spurned.
It proved only a matter of time before Rangers did get a second goal, though. Five minutes before half-time, Andrew Little made the most of a loose ball in the box and slammed it past Samson, while at the other end Allan McGregor made a point-blank save from Nigel Hasselbaink after Dougie Imrie and McGowan had combined to create the opening.
Although St Mirren were still niggling away, Rangers manager Ally McCoist admitted he was delighted with his team’s attitude on the day they relinquished their league title, admitting that the atmosphere could have been flat. It was far from it. “I was concerned,” he said. “Coming off the two magnificent results against Celtic and Motherwell, there was always a chance that the atmosphere would not be as good as it could be and that there could be a bit of a dip but I’m really pleased. I wanted to win for the players and the supporters.”
The spirit was tested again, though, when, first of all St Mirren were gifted a spot kick after Dorin Goian wrestled Steven Thompson and Paul McGowan sent Allan McGregor the wrong way, to make it 2-1, and again 60 seconds later.
Back in it, St Mirren shot themselves in the foot. Jeroen Tesselaar pulled back Aluko as he was about to unleash a shot inside the box and the referee had no choice but to send him off and grant another penalty. This time McCulloch opted to take it but Samson guessed correctly and palmed his effort clear of target.
There was a bit of belief in the visiting team after that, despite being a man down, but in the 59th minute Rangers put it beyond them. This time Mair fouled McCulloch and substitute Kyle Lafferty was clinical from the spot.
If he had failed then, it seemed the next choice would be McCoist himself. “A boy behind the dug-out certainly thought that was a good suggestion” said the Rangers boss. “After missing the first two it was a strange situation but I fancied Laff to score. But to be fair to the referee he got all four right.”