FOR the first time in three seasons, Rangers and their supporters have a reason to keep a close eye on the results of other teams in their division.
Rangers 4-1 Dumbarton
Scorers: Rangers - McCulloch 15, McGregor 30, Clark 54, Turner 76 (og); Dumbarton - Mohsni 81 (og)
As Ally McCoist’s team cruised to victory over Dumbarton on Saturday, events at Stark’s Park and Easter Road were being monitored.
Hearts’ thumping away win over Raith reinforced the belief of many that the Gorgie men will present the biggest threat to Rangers’ hopes of winning the Championship and claiming automatic promotion to the top flight, while Hibs’ defeat at home to Falkirk underlined the fiercely competitive nature of Scottish football’s second tier.
For McCoist and his players, showing steady signs of improvement after their opening day loss at home to Hearts, momentum and consistency will be the key to justifying their status as title favourites.
If they can garner maximum points from their next three league games against Queen of the South, Raith Rovers and Alloa, they are likely to be in a strong position when they welcome Hibs to Ibrox at the end of September in the next meeting of two of the Championship’s big three.
They may have few games as relatively straightforward as they enjoyed on Saturday. Dumbarton, who remain pointless at the foot of the table after three rounds of fixtures, were simply overpowered and outmanoeuvred at Ibrox.
The die was cast as soon as Rangers captain Lee McCulloch stole a yard on Sons’ defender Lee Mair and volleyed home Lewis Macleod’s corner from the edge of the six-yard box in the 15th minute. McCulloch now holds the curious distinction of having scored for Rangers in all four divisions of Scottish football, as well as the Scottish Cup, League Cup and Champions League. The frame of the Dumbarton goal was rattled twice, by Macleod and Nicky Clark, before right-back Darren McGregor doubled the dominant home side’s lead in the 30th minute with a thunderous right-foot finish after a slick move.
Ian Murray’s side did threaten to force their way back into contention seven minutes after the break and there was controversy when referee Brian Colvin decided a booking was sufficient punishment for Bilel Mohsni’s cynical trip on Scott Agnew on the edge of the penalty area. Even Rangers manager McCoist observed afterwards it could easily have been deemed a red card.
To rub salt in Dumbarton’s wounds, Mohsni began the move which led to Rangers making it 3-0 just two minutes later, Clark netting with a low shot from 12 yards after being set up by Kris Boyd.
“It’s hard enough coming to Ibrox,” reflected Dumbarton midfielder Agnew. “A decision like that at 2-0 makes it even harder. As far as I was concerned, I was one-on-one with the goalkeeper. I thought I’d done well to get past Mohsni. I asked the ref, but he obviously decided it wasn’t a sending-off.
“The ref didn’t really explain it. I don’t know if there was another defender getting round to cover – but the boys tell me there wasn’t. I certainly wouldn’t be picking out Mohsni or anyone else as someone I could get at. But I thought I’d done well on that occasion and should have had a shot at goal. That was a chance for us to get back into the game. Unfortunately we didn’t get it.”
Rangers made it 4-0 through Chris Turner’s bizarre own goal in the 76th minute, the Northern Irish midfielder heading and then volleying the ball into the net as he tried to clear a Dean Shiels corner. The hapless Mohsni evened up the own goal count five minutes later, nodding Archie Campbell’s cross beyond Steve Simonsen, but it was little consolation for Dumbarton who face Hibs in the League Cup tomorrow night before what is already a more significant assignment in the league against Livingston on Saturday.
“It’s brilliant playing at places like Ibrox and Easter Road, but we need to start putting points on the board in the Championship,” added Agnew, who began his career at Rangers but was released as a teenager.
“We go into every game thinking we have a chance but the Livingston game is the most important one for us now.
“It was great for me to finally get back to Ibrox and play but disappointing to lose. It was a great opportunity for me to score at Ibrox but I didn’t get it.”