THE pressure on Rangers manager Ally McCoist eased – but only slightly – with this unconvincing victory.
Falkirk - 0
Rangers - 2, Vaulks (78og), Clark (84)
Referee: C Murray
In truth, they were, for the most part, as shambolic as they had been while losing at home to Hearts last weekend but they were luckier on this occasion, when an own goal 12 minutes from time broke the deadlock after they had been outplayed for the bulk of the game.
A late second by Nicky Clark gave the scoreline a misleading look but Rangers will need to perform much better than this if they are to claim the title and the automatic promotion which comes with it.
The teams had taken the field to the strains of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir but such was the relentless mediocrity of the visitors’ display for the first three-quarters of this contest a more appropriate choice may have been The Song Remains The Same.
Rangers started with Bilel Mohsni, available again after suspension, and Darren McGregor replacing Ian Black and Richard Foster, injured in the home defeat by Hearts.
Falkirk started confidently enough and Cammy Bell required treatment as early as the second minute when he collided with Tom Taiwo as the former Hibs midfielder attempted to convert a cross by Colin McGrandles.
The home side came closer five minutes later when Alex Cooper jinked past McGregor before cutting the ball back for Blair Alston, whose flick drifted inches wide of the far post.
Rangers’ first effort, in the 14th minute, was a raking 25-yarder by David Templeton which caused Jamie McDonald some concern but narrowly missed the target.
Falkirk should have taken the lead midway through the first half when Mohsni was woefully short with a headed passback.
Alex Cooper latched on to it but delayed pulling the trigger for so long that Mohsni was able to slide in and nick the ball away for a corner.
The most notable feature of the opening period, however, was the utter lack of cohesion in the visiting team.
Rangers’ midfield was bereft of verve and vision, with seemingly undroppable club captain Lee McCulloch crowbarred into the centre of that unit at the expense of Lewis Macleod, who was once again forced into a wide role.
The distribution was pitiful, with Mohsni, in particular, guilty of repeatedly conceding possession due to his inability to play simple passes.
Reuniting the strike force of Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd seemed like a good idea in theory but even the best strikers would struggle to score on the meagre rations the pair have been supplied with thus far.
Mohsni was cautioned for hauling down Alston as he charged towards the penalty area and the midfielder’s free kick beat Bell but drifted just wide of his left-hand post.
With Rangers in disarray, Alston then fired an angled drive which flashed across the face of the goal, needing just a touch to break the deadlock.
The last chance of the half fell to Conor McGrandles, who saw his header from an Alston free kick clawed out from under his crossbar by Bell. Unsurprisingly, the whistle for the interval was greeted by jeers from the travelling support.
Those fans grew more disgruntled with every misplaced pass and Mohsni, arguably the poorest player to reach double figures in a Rangers jersey, was responsible for many of them.
He was fortunate to escape a second yellow card when he fouled McGrandles on the edge of the penalty area and Bell excelled when he turned over Cooper’s shot from the resulting free kick. The goalkeeper did even better with a magnificent reflex save to keep out Alston’s powerful downward header from Taiwo’s corner.
Rangers were hanging on and seemingly content to do so. They were being outfought and out-thought by a less experienced (and less expensively assembled) side.
Miller, who had barely touched the ball after the restart, was replaced by Nicky Clark in the 56th minute but Falkirk continued to have the edge.
Even when the ball broke kindly for McCulloch from a Lee Wallace free kick, the veteran snatched at the opportunity, got under the ball and his shot from 12 yards cleared the crossbar with six feet to spare.
Back at the other end, Rory Loy burst past Mohsni and reached the bye-line but could not pick out Cooper with his cutback.
Rangers recorded their first effort on target in the 67th minute, a header by Nicky Clark from Boyd’s cross which he directed into the arms of MacDonald.
However, they made the breakthrough 12 minutes from time when a scuffed shot by Macleod was going nowhere until it ricocheted off Will Vaulks and wrong-footed MacDonald.
Deflated by the deflection, Falkirk failed to threaten again and Clark secured the outcome when he provided the finishing touch after Nicky Law had flicked on Macleod’s outswinging corner.