Rangers 5 - 0 East Fife: McCulloch hits hat-trick

Rangers' Lee McCulloch celebrates. Picture: SNS

Rangers' Lee McCulloch celebrates. Picture: SNS

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After this impressive stroll to a thumping victory, the transfer embargo on Rangers ceases on Monday, and the summer signings all become eligible to play.

SCORERS: Clark 1, McCulloch 17, 36, 63, Macleod 54

The thought of Nicky Law, Jon Daly, Richard Foster, Belil Mohsni, Steve Smith and Arnold Peralta joining yesterday’s ‘trialists’ Cammy Bell and Nicky Clark in the playing squad will make the Ibrox fans very happy, but scunner everybody else in SPFL One.

For SPFL One may be a league, but it is not a competition. Rangers have now played and won four, with 18 goals for, and just one against. At this rate, Rangers’ name will be on the trophy by Ne’erday, especially if Lee McCulloch can keep up his devastating goal form, his hat-trick yesterday being his first for Rangers.

Pantomime villain Charles Green may have finally left Ibrox – oh yes he has, and McCoist would not comment on the departure – but if this season is to have any meaning for Rangers, the Yorkshireman’s typically blunt point about the side having to win a cup may have some relevance.

McCoist appeared to agree: “With the squad we have got now, I would hope to have the same hopes and aspirations as other clubs in the top league outwith Celtic.

“Beforehand for Celtic and ourselves a cup run was the norm, but you look at other teams now, like Hearts, St Johnstone, Hibs or Dundee United and they are very hopeful of a cup run.

“I would count ourselves in that category now. I don’t think for a minute that Dundee United or Hearts are expected to win a cup and I don’t think we at this time should be expected to win a cup, but I do accept that we’ll be more hopeful this year than last year of an extended run.”

Yesterday the three points were heading to Rangers after just 30 seconds when Clark collected McCulloch’s adroit through ball and skipped laterally across the penalty box before dispatching a crisp low left-foot shot past the helpless Michael Andrews. It was Clark’s first league goal for the club, scored on his competitive debut, and the former Queen of the South man should have doubled his tally shortly afterward.

With David Templeton full of trickery on the left wing, Lee Wallace got forward to support him throughout, laying one on a plate for Clark after 12 minutes, the striker’s shot on the run from just outside the six yard area veering into the side netting.

With Sebastian Faure and Emilson Cribari forming a solid working partnership in central defence, McCulloch was loving it up front. After 17 minutes, Wallace’s cross from the left hung invitingly over the penalty spot and McCulloch outjumped Gary Thom and goalkeeper Andrews to head home his second league goal of the season.

East Fife battled hard enough, but only occasionally threatened Cammy Bell’s goal. The Rangers defence allowed East Fife just three shots on target in the first half, the efforts from distance by Cedric Tatu, Liam Buchanan and Ross Brown all comfortably saved by Bell, though it took Faure’s quite superb last-ditch tackle to foil Buchanan when he broke deep into the home box and looked set to score.

Templeton’s 20th minute shot was deflected wide of goal, but by then East Fife were already chasing shadows, Cedric Tatu, Jon Stewart, Craig Johnstone and Gary Thom were all booked for fouls that were a result of them just not being good enough to catch their opponents fairly.

McCulloch’s second goal came after 37 minutes, Wallace’s run and cross being a thing of beauty and the captain heading powerfully home at the back post.

East Fife rallied towards the end of the half, and Rangers had a lucky escape when Craig Johnstone’s free kick clearly struck Ian Black’s arm in the penalty area, the referee adjudging that it was not a deliberate handball.

That only served to indicate that the visitors were going to need a lucky break if they were to figure on the scoresheet. They didn’t get one, and Rangers poured on the pressure at the start of the second half, Lewis McLeod punishing a poor clearance by returning it on the volley straight past Andrews.

McCulloch’s hat-trick were all headed goals, Rangers’ fifth coming in the 62nd minute when the skipper met Kyle McAusland’s pinpoint cross to head past a flummoxed Andrews.

The match petered out as Rangers lifted their foot off the gas, though Clark and McCulloch both scorned late chances to make it six or seven, a scoreline that would have been a fairer reflection of the play.

Clark – 40 goals himself for Queen of the South last term – was asked could Rangers score 90 or 100 this season?

He did not demur: “It’s been a great start and I don’t see why not if we keep continuing the way we are going.” He’s not wrong there.

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