THE concept of a footballing ten-in-a-row in their home city has been enough to spook Rangers supporters in recent years.
Yesterday provided them with such a sequence that they could embrace, not least because it feels like only the beginning of them laying to rest a few ghosts.
Mark Warburton’s side were workaday as they racked up their tenth straight win by overcoming an admirably dogged Livingston, who belied their bottom-of-the-Championship status. Yet so average were the home side in their own eyes that Warburton revealed that there had been a dressing-room exorcism of sorts about a display he labelled “efficient … maybe”.
“We fell way below our standards today,” he said. “There is not lack or respect to the opposition – far from it – but we know that today we didn’t move the ball well. We didn’t take care of it. We didn’t create enough chances. We dropped too deep.
“But the good thing from that is that we had an inquest. The players demanded it and we let them talk. The players were angry because they weren’t at the right level this afternoon. They had a few heated words and that’s great because we will work hard this week and demand even more. If we’d had to go in there and shout at them it would be a different case. But Davie Weir, Jim Stewart and I wanted them to respond. Let them let talk and see what their reaction was. That their reaction was angry is great – I’m delighted with that.”
It seems churlish to be critical of Rangers for doing all that they had to do and still winning with bags to spare. As with Hearts last season, they are clearly too good for the second tier of Scottish football. Whether inside a year they become good enough to win the top flight, as declared an imperative by their chairman Dave King this week, is another matter but they are certainly aiming high in every aspect of their on-field endeavours.
Martyn Waghorn, with his first goal from open play in the league taking his season’s tally to nine, admitted he had never played for a club where the players could be disgruntled after knocking off a straightforward 3-0 victory. But the Geordie appreciated that this is life at Rangers – a team with the second-highest budget in Scotland, never mind ten times the average of most Championship opponents, it shouldn’t be forgotten. At least under Warburton they are making those financial differentials tell.
Whatever else the afternoon became, the Ibrox men were set on their way to a sixth straight Championship success by a beezer of a strike from Lee Wallace after 16 minutes. A free-kick on the edge of the area was touched forward by Andy Halliday to Barrie McKay who rolled it back into the path of the Rangers captain who clattered in a 25-yard drive that travelled all the way into the net at knee height, a thing of beauty.
Livingston seemed to throw off the shackles at that point and were all the better a participant in the contest for doing so. They twice came close through Liam Buchanan, with a fizzing, arcing drive from the forward requiring Wes Foderingham to tip over at full stretch. Then, with five minutes of the half remaining, a swivel and low shot from Waghorn, who created space at an acute angle on the left of the area, allowed him to beat Darren Jamieson courtesy of the ball going in off the back post.
The second half was a meandering affair, with Livingston never looking like being on the receiving end of some of the lop-sided scorelines that Rangers have dished out in bagging 35 goals from the nine games ahead of yesterday’s encounter. It perplexed that Mark Burchill’s men could prove so awkward when they had claimed only a solitary point in the Championship this season. The point, if you will, was not lost on the West Lothian club’s manager.
He contented himself that when Rangers completed the scoring in the 80th minute through substitute Nicky Law, who received a reverse pass inside the left-hand channel from fellow second-half arrival Kenny Miller and thumped it high into the net, it made for one of only five efforts on target the home side had across the entire afternoon.
“Rangers will run away with the league and I don’t think many teams will come here this season and be able to say that,” he said of his team’s ability to restrict their opponents’ shooting opportunity. “I think anyone who was watching would see that the gulf between Rangers and Livingston isn’t anywhere near as big as anyone was expecting. I have absolutely no doubt that Livingston will get ourselves out of this pretty soon. I am looking in that dressing room and I feel I had some good performances there.”