WITH their fans occupying the stand sponsored by crime writer Val McDermid, Rangers managed to ward off the blood-curling prospect of a fourth successive defeat against Raith Rovers last night.
Scorers: Raith Rovers - Conroy (70); Rangers - Murdoch (35), Boyd (54)
There was some suspense injected into the proceedings by Ryan Conroy’s strike for the hosts that raised hopes of a comeback among the home fans.
But earlier strikes from Rangers players at far different stages of their Ibrox careers had put the visitors in a commanding position. Andy Murdoch’s first goal for the club was the goal of the game and more than hinted at his promise. The old gunslinger that is Kris Boyd got back in the act with his side’s second shortly after half-time, his first league goal since October.
Kenny McDowall was a relieved man at the end. Little has gone right for him since reluctantly succeeding Ally McCoist but he has at least avoided being remembered as the first Rangers manager since Jock Wallace to oversee four consecutive defeats. The victory puts Rangers back into second place above Hibs, who play Dumbarton today.
Not since the bad old days of the mid-1980s had Rangers lost four-in-a-row. Given their recent tribulations, those don’t now seem half so bad now. But while they have other problems to worry about, this narrow victory provided blessed some relief at least and their first win since 10 January.
Rangers looked far from composed in the early stages but recovered to grab what should have been a comfortable lead following goals from Murdoch and Boyd, either side of half-time. It should have been enough to earn McDowall some respite after weeks of difficulties on the pitch as well as off it.
But a deflected goal from Conroy, who scored when Raith defeated Rangers at Ibrox earlier this month for the first time since the 1950s, sparked a mini-revival by the spirited home side, who had earlier looked likely to
profit from the visitors’ uncertain start.
Whether or not Marius Zaliukas is the answer to their problems at centre-half remains to be seen. It didn’t look like it at times last night. Even before the slip that let in Mark Stewart for Raith’s first decent opening he looked casual in the extreme, although with this being only his second game back, perhaps there are mitigating factors.
Others don’t have this excuse even if Rangers have a slightly different look about them after what has seemed like weeks of plodding predictability. Kenny Miller dropped out due to injury, which meant Nicky Clark, watched by ex-Ranger father Sandy, started his first game since last year. Sebastian Faure continued at right-back and was Zaliuskas’ saviour when making a last-ditch tackle to prevent Stewart from scoring after Zaliuskas had gifted the former Dundee striker the ball.
But credit to the visitors, they steadied themselves before half-time and grabbed a probably-deserved interval lead. Ominously for the home fans, Rangers were becoming ever more dominant after their shaky start. Boyd smacked a header off the top of the bar from a Wallace cross. The Rangers left back was proving an effective source of opportunities. He teed up Clark for a shot that the striker rifled over the bar and then almost inadvertently set-up Boyd at the back post when skewing a shot wide.
Wallace also had a part to play in Rangers’ opener but to take away any of the credit from Murdoch would be doing a great disservice to the young midfielder. He had his debut ruined two weeks ago at Ibrox when Raith earned that historic Scottish Cup win. But he went the right away about trying to assure yesterday was a more memorable day. Taking a squared pass from Wallace in his stride after 35 minutes, he took a touch then rifled a right-footed shot into the top corner.
It was the goal Rangers deserved after their recovering from an opening period when they looked slightly discomfited by the thought of playing the side who have provided them with such bitter memories of late. As well as the Scottish Cup defeat earlier this month, last season’s Ramsden’s Cup final loss is a stain on the recent history of the club. Lee Robinson was playing for the opponents that day but took his place in the Rangers goal last night, despite Steve
Simonsen’s return from suspension after being disciplined for betting on football matches.
The bookies seemed to have it right last night. Perhaps surprisingly given their recent run, Rangers had been installed as favourites to win. But they were living up to this tag as the game wore on, with Clark almost extending the visitors’ lead after the interval when brilliantly controlling Murdoch’s long pass – but his volley bounded wide.
However, Boyd, his strike partner, scored the goal that seemed to earn the visitors some breathing space nine minutes after half-time when he slotted home at the second attempt, after further good work from Wallace down the left. But Raith proved unwilling to let their seven-game unbeaten run go without a fight.
They had been eager for the win that would have kept them in touch with fourth-placed Falkirk, but even a point would represent a satisfying outcome given how much they’d lost surrendered their grip on the game.
Conroy’s shot from outside the box after 68 minutes that took a nick off Wallace offered the home side a way back but they could not conjure up the clear opening they needed, save for an acrobatic effort from Nade that cleared the bar in the dying moments. After extended spells of Rangers pressure and numerous chances spurned, the visitors were probably worth the three points in the end. How long has it been since anyone could say that?
RAITH (4-4-2): McGurn; Thomson, Watson, Hill, McKeown; Conroy, Moon, Anderson, Callachan; Nade, Stewart. SUBS: Cuthbert, Barr, Matthews, Robertson, Vaughan, Fox, Scott.
RANGERS (4-2-3-1): Robinson; Faure, McCulloch, Zaliukas, Wallace; Murdoch, Hutton; Clark, Vuckic, Law; Boyd. SUBS: Simonsen, Smith, McGregor, Black, Templeton, Shiels, Daly.
REF: Craig Charleston
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