IF THERE was any doubt that Rangers’ trouble and strife is still bubbling away in the background, the depth of the Ibrox fans’ disenchantment was demonstrated on 18 and 72 minutes when a protest organised by the “Sons of Struth” pressure group broke into the open at the final home match before next week’s agm.
Rangers 3 (Daly 12, Aird 23, Mohsni 86) Ayr United 0
Thousands of red cards were hoisted in a novel protest, although the accompanying chant of “Sack the board, sack the board, sack the board!” was considerably more familiar.
If the club remains a hotbed of rancour off the park, on it things could hardly have gone more swimmingly as Ayr were dispatched with an almost contemptuous ease. Rangers won 2-0 at Somerset Park in October but, at times yesterday, they threatened to run up a rugby score.
In fact, with Ayr being relentlessly pressed and unable to fashion a serious shot on goal until the 90th minute, the biggest problem for Rangers seemed to be keeping motivation levels high, particularly after they went two goals ahead and United got more men behind the ball. Yet, with Ian Black dominating the midfield and proving the game’s outstanding creative influence, there was a constant flow of chances throughout the game, with the first coming as early as the first minute.
From there, the goalscoring opportunities continued unabated, with Jon Daly particularly profligate. The big striker spooned a good early chance over the bar after some good work down the right by Arnold Peralta while, just before half-time, he failed to convert two chances in quick succession. Daly partly atoned with a goal born of real hunger after just 13 minutes when Black floated a free-kick deep into the area, the striker rising above Ayr defender Gordon Pope and deftly directing his header wide of David Hutton in the Ayr goal for Rangers’ opener.
The second only took another ten minutes to come, a period in which Nicky Clark and Lee McCulloch both almost extended the home side’s advantage. When the breakthrough came, it was Fraser Aird who got on to the scoreboard as he broke from deep and unleashed a low, rasping shot from the edge of the box which flew into the bottom corner.
Clark could have added a third before half-time when he directed his close-range header down into the floor so that it bounced over the bar, but he needn’t have bothered because normal service was resumed after the break when only a superb point-blank save from Hutton stopped McCulloch’s header. Rangers had other chances, such as when substitute David Templeton’s free-kick had to be tipped over by Hutton, or when only a cynical foul from Adam Hunter stopped Clark’s rapid progress towards goal and earned the former Rangers defender a yellow card that could easily have been a red.
That said, with the result already beyond doubt by the interval, the second half was a curiously flat experience. In an attempt to raise the tempo, Ally McCoist bought on Templeton and then Robbie Crawford, but even that didn’t work as a committed and organised Ayr dug in. In the end, a late goal from Bilel Mohsni was all that Rangers had to show for their second-half endeavour, the big French-Tunisian defender smashing the ball home from close range after Hutton had been unable to hold a fierce shot from McCulloch.
By the end, the game faded away to the point where the home fans amused themselves by making paper airplanes out of their red cards.
As Ayr manager Mark Roberts said: “We lost this one in the first half when we gave them too much respect.”
McCoist won’t care though because this was never less than comfortable and the final table will still read played 15, won 15. As he said afterwards: “It’s hard to be overly critical when we’re turning in good results but I felt that we didn’t turn up the tempo in the second half and should have killed it off long before we got the third right at the end. We’ve got to guard against complacency.”
Rangers: Bell, Faure, McCulloch, Mohsni, Wallace, Peralta, Black (Crawford 77), MacLeod, Aird (Templeton 66), Daly, Clark. Subs not used: Simonsen, Cribari, Shiels, McKay, Smith.
Ayr Utd: Hutton, Hunter, Lithgow, McLaughlin, Pope, Forrest (Wardrobe 89), Gilmour, Malcolm, Donald, Kyle (Shankland 87), Moffat. Subs not used: McCracken, Longridge, McGowan, Muir, Crawford.
Booked: Hunter, McLaughlin, Gilmour
Ref: E Anderson