RANGERS’ financial results caused a mixture of concern and bafflement when they were released last week, but results on the field continue to be a welcome source of reassurance for their supporters.
Scorers: Rangers: Mohsni (55), McLeod (58)
This victory was far from being their best performance of the season, but it was another solid step all the same in their bid to get out of League One at the first time of asking.
Those supporters helped pack out Somerset Park and again voiced their backing for the team on the pitch while barracking those who are currently in charge of the club. Banners raised before kick-off read “Mather out”, “Stockbridge out”, “Mather liar”, “Thieves out” and “Action not apathy”, while, at half-time, the traditional chorus of “Sack the board” got an airing. A more novel vocal performance before the game came from local hero Somerset Boab, whose specially adapted versions of Sex On Fire and Nessun Dorma displayed enviable musical versatility. That ensured the home crowd were in fine voice for the start of the match, and the home team seemed to take their cue from that as they set off with purpose and no little self-belief.
Rangers, conversely, began the game lethargically, and were lucky not to go a goal down in the opening minutes. Richard Foster mistakenly let a ball run to Michael Moffat on the left of the box. His cutback found Michael Donald, whose curling effort looked goalbound, but bounced off the far post and straight into Cammy Bell’s hands.
That set the standard for a fine first half by the home team, whereas Rangers, although they became livelier after that soporific start, lacked a cutting edge up front. A 20-yard half-volley by Nicky Law was the first real attempt on goal by the visitors, and that went harmlessly over the bar. Lee Wallace then shot wide from a decent position on the left and, on the right, Andy Little had a weak cutback intercepted when he had been well placed to shoot.
At the other end, a fierce 35-yard free kick by Scott McLaughlin was palmed over by Bell. It was a sign that Ayr were capable of giving as good as they got, although their main strength in the first half was their defensive organisation. Wallace was usually capable of making progress down the left but, otherwise, most attempts by Rangers to get beyond the back four were thwarted, with Arnold Peralta being particularly hesitant when it came to trying to get past his marker.
Wallace then had another shot from an Ian Black free kick, but it went straight to David Hutton. Black himself shot wide not long before half-time, but the best chance before the break fell to Jon Daly. The striker was only three yards out when a Peralta ball into the box reached him, but he was awkwardly positioned and shot wide as he turned.
The second half began in similar style, with no immediate end to the stalemate looking likely – but that changed after 55 minutes when Rangers took the lead with a goal that was as simple as some of their earlier attempts had been over-elaborate. Black’s free kick found Bilel Mohsni just inside the penalty area and, from 15 yards, the centre-half spun round and shot low and hard inside the left-hand post.
Ayr had no time to react to that blow before finding themselves two goals down. A corner from the left by Peralta was headed on by Mohsni, and, from within the six-yard box, Lewis MacLeod found the net with an overhead kick.
Having established that two-goal lead, Rangers could afford to maintain a fairly low tempo. The only difference was that, whereas at first that had stemmed from an uncertainty about how to break down their well-drilled opponents, it was now a sign of their confidence that they had done enough to claim another three points.
It should have been three goals as well, following a quick break upfield from an Ayr corner, but Wallace fired over from close range after Law’s shot had been blocked. The miss scarcely mattered: after competing on equal terms for more than half the game, Ayr were showing little sign of getting even one goal back, and, in their more concerted attacks, they ran an increasing risk of being hit on the counter.
David Templeton came off the bench and had a couple of chances to add to Rangers’ tally and Law looked livelier as space opened up late in the game. With time running out, Ayr substitutes Alan Forrest – brother of James – and Craig Malcolm linked up to good effect through the middle, but the latter could only shoot wide.
A goal at that stage might have been a fair reward for the effort Ayr had put into the match, but it would also have given the scoreline a deceptive complexion. Had they needed to, Rangers looked like they could score again at will, and they were far from flattered by their two-goal margin of victory.
Ayr United: Hutton, Hunter, Lithgow, Martyn Campbell, Pope, Moffat, Robert Crawford (Forrest 80), Roberts (Marenghi 64), McLaughlin, Donald,Kyle (Malcolm 75). Subs Not Used: Longridge, McGowan, Shankland, Wiliam Muir.
Rangers: Bell, Foster, Mohsni, Peralta (Crawford 86), Wallace, McCulloch, Little (Templeton 73), Black, Daly, McLeod, Law. Subs not used: Simonsen, Faure, Clark, Aird, Smith.