FOR all their hiccups on the road, Rangers continue to breathe easy in their own back yard. A goal in each half – from Lee McCulloch and Lee Wallace respectively – yesterday maintained their 100 per cent home league record with the kind of straightforward victory that has too often eluded them away from Ibrox.
Rangers 2: McCulloch 43; Wallace 66
In contrast to the opening day of the season, when Ally McCoist’s team needed a last-minute equaliser to salvage a 2-2 draw at Peterhead’s Balmoor Stadium, it was a relatively mundane affair that rarely rose above the ordinary. Apart from an early scare, when Rory McAllister hit the crossbar, Rangers got the job done in routine fashion.
The Ibrox club pulled out all the stops to remember servicemen past and present, but the football was largely forgettable, thanks partly to Peterhead’s determination to sit in and wait for the counter-attack. Given their resources, the strategy was perfectly understandable, but it didn’t make for much of a spectacle.
It was the kind of fare that made you wonder again why so many spectators are paying for the privilege. It wasn’t Rangers’ biggest crowd of the season, but 48,407 was another eye-popping attendance, more than the rest of Scottish football put together.
Sure, it was their fifth straight home win in the league, and it consolidated their position at the top of the Third Division, but repeated crowds of more than 45,000 are remarkable for a club in the bottom tier, irrespective of the context.
Having selected a midfield that included three teenagers, McCoist suggested later that they were the big attraction for fans these days. “It is great that the supporters are getting an opportunity to see some of the youth coming through at Murray Park, but it’s only great if we continue to win and get promoted,” he said. “That’s the target, and that’s what we have to do.”
The manager also paid tribute to his senior players, particularly McCulloch, who grabbed his 17th goal of the season, despite playing at centre-half. “Lee has been great,” said McCoist. “I have asked the older boys to step up. Wallace, [Ian] Black, [Neil] Alexander, McCulloch… they are important men for us because the younger boys need a guiding hand.”
This one will be remembered only for everything that was going on around it. All manner of ceremonies were conducted beforehand, including the laying of a wreath at the feet of John Greig’s statue, a spectacular flag display of poppies and a minute’s silence, which began and ended with the blast of a pitchside artillery gun. The smoke had barely cleared when the visiting team gave Rangers a fright, albeit one that was self-inflicted. Black’s header back to the goalkeeper was misjudged, as was the flag raised by the assistant referee. To his credit, the man in the middle, Craig Charleston, waved play on, and McAllister, with only Alexander to beat from ten yards, cracked his shot off the crossbar. Rangers, though, gradually imposed themselves on the game, albeit without properly testing the Peterhead goalkeeper. Little swivelled on the edge of the box to cut a crisp shot wide of the upright, and Black’s inswinging free kick nearly sneaked into the far corner as McCoist’s team camped in their opponents’ half.
Peterhead were firmly on the back foot, but bizarrely, they had come closest to scoring, and even dared to glance the woodwork again, this time when Ryan Strachan, not
distracted by a paper missile flung in his direction, swirled a corner kick over the goalkeeper’s head and off the top of the crossbar.
No wonder McCoist was relieved to see his team’s dominance rewarded a few minutes later. It was a simple goal, aided by a dose of slipshod defending, but it had to be converted all the same, which McCulloch calmly did, glancing in Barrie McKay’s corner from the edge of the six-yard area. It was a deserved lead, which should have been doubled when Lewis MacLeod fed Little, but the striker rushed his shot across the goalkeeper’s body.
After the half-time spectacle of several hundred servicemen milling about the pitch, taking the acclaim of the crowd, the second period started much as the first one had ended, with Little pulling a decent chance wide with his left foot. Anestis Argyriou’s long-range effort sailed over the top, as did a more subtle attempt by Lewis MacLeod.
Just when it looked as though there might be life in Peterhead yet, most notably when McAllister headed straight at Alexander after a free kick by Strachan, a second goal for Rangers settled the issue. Black’s free kick, from close to the bye-line, was cut back to the edge of the box, wrongfooting the Peterhead defence. Wallace sprinted to meet the ball, which he turned into the net with a firm left-foot shot.
Dean Shiels had the chance to score another, but his shot found the side-net, and Kal Naismith, on for Little, also tested the goalkeeper, but two was enough for Rangers.
Rangers: Alexander, Argyriou, McCulloch (booked), Hegarty, Wallace, Crawford (80), MacLeod, Black (72) (booked), McKay, Shiels,Little (68). Subs: Naismith (68), Hutton (72), Aird (80).
Peterhead: McCallum, S Ross, Strachan, Smith, D Ross, Redman (73), Cowie (61) (booked), McLaughlin, Noble, Cox, McAllister. Subs: Deasley (61) (booked),
Referee: C Charleston. Attendance: 48,407.