YOU could never accuse the 2014-15 Rangers side of doing things the easy way. Even after missing enough chances to win three games they still looked comfortably on course for a routine victory against struggling Cowdenbeath before disaster struck.
Scorers: Rangers - Clark (49).′ McGregor (83),′ Vuckic (88)′, (90); Cowdenbeath - Oyenu (76)
To say the goal came out of nothing would understate the surreality of the situation as Kudus Oyenuga suddenly found himself through on Cammy Bell after Bilel Mohsni’s misplaced pass was returned right through the heart of the home defence.
Once the ball found the back of the net the stunned Ibrox crowd quickly turned to anger, booing the players for what looked set to be another in a long line of embarrassments suffered at the hands of humble Scottish Championship opposition.
Under Kenny McDowall, or even Ally McCoist, that fear would have become a reality, but on this occasion Rangers used the fresh impetus instilled in them by Stuart McCall to come storming back, restoring their lead via Darren McGregor’s powerful 25-yard drive before Haris Vuckic made the points safe with a late double.
Struggling to defeat a side near the foot of the table – especially one missing their manager as Jimmy Nicholl was away with Northern Ireland on international duty – wouldn’t normally indicate a corner has been turned, but you only have to look at Rangers’ form in 2015 to recognise that victory, regardless of how it is achieved, equals improvement.
Along with the triumph over Hibs last week, yesterday’s victory secured Rangers first back-to-back wins since January 10. They also enjoyed the added bonus of their play-off rivals losing at Stark’s Park, as the two results combined to put Rangers level on points with Hibs in second place. Momentum is finally building at Ibrox. Regardless of how late they left it, the home side were well worth the margin of victory.
After a tentative opening ten minutes, the match burst to life with the home side creating chances from each of three successive corners. Lee McCulloch and Mohsni each had headers saved by Robbie Thomson, before the latter then headed wide following another Nicky Law delivery.
From then on the chances came thick and fast: Law curled a shot on to the post, Kenny Miller trundled a shot past goal, Dean Shiels flashed one across the face, and Nicky Clark went close with a glancing header. Rangers were dominating but the goal wouldn’t come, and they walked off a frustrated XI at half-time.
“You can tell things are changing,” said manager McCall. “We came off against Alloa to boos which I thought were slightly unfair. But we came off at half-time today and I think you could tell the supporters realised we’d played well.
“We have to stop shooting ourselves in the foot, but all in all I’m delighted with the result and the performance. You can see now that we’ve got players performing and there is plenty of competition for places in the squad.”
It didn’t take long after the restart for the elusive goal to arrive. Lee Wallace broke into the penalty area and his low shot was parried by Thomson into the path of Clark who slid the ball into the net.
Cowdenbeath kept Rangers at arms length for a solid 20-minute spell before Clark was presented with an even better chance to kill the game off. Once more he drifted to the back post and was in the perfect position to get on the end of David Templeton’s low ball. This time, however, he somehow managed to side-foot high past the post.
The profligacy then managed to spread as Miller somehow failed to get any contact on a free header in the six-yard box.
Despite the wastefulness, there was still no real threat posed by the visitors until Lewis Toshney’s first-time pass from a wayward Mohsni ball put through Oyenuga. The striker steadied himself and smashed in the equaliser past Cammy Bell. From that point the hosts displayed the kind of ruthlessness which, had they managed it earlier, would have made this a much more comfortable afternoon.
There was no denying the quality of McGregor’s strike as he strode on to a lay-off and arrowed it first-time into the far corner to restore the lead.
Substitute Vuckic then made the points safe with a fine double. The Slovenian first combined well with Wallace through the centre before planting the ball past Thomson, then rounded off the scoring by cutting in from the left and curling his shot into the far corner.
Rangers: Bell, McGregor, McCulloch, Mohsni, Wallace, Shiels (Vuckic 69), Law, Murdoch, Templeton (Black 86), Miller, Clark (Hardie 74). Subs not used: Robinson, Aird, Daly, Crawford.
Cowdenbeath: Thomson, Toshney, Armstrong, Brownlie, Wedderburn, Marshall, Hughes (Miller 63), Robertson, Milne (O’Brien 84), Oyenuga, Higgins (Buchanan 69). Subs not used: Sneddon, Nish, Kane, Johnstone.
Referee: B Colvin. Attendance: 32,682.
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