Mike Aitken sees act of thuggery by Rangers’ £4m man
Rangers 4-0 Raith Rovers
The Scotsman, 18 April, 1994
A fluent attacking performance by Rangers should not be obscured by a moment of loutishness from Duncan Ferguson.
The match programme had speculated that the £4 million man would have his head in the clouds on the day he broke his scoring duck.
Instead, Ferguson attempted to bury his head in the face of Raith Rovers full-back John McStay.
Astonishingly, no action was taken against the striker by referee Kenny Clark, who told Raith players afterwards that he didn’t see the incident.
That was a puzzling revelation since the Fifa official saw enough to award a free kick and lecture both players after a minor scuffle on the touchline escalated.
While McStay ended up with a gashed lip, Ferguson carried on to score his first goal for the club at the start of the second half.
After more than 12 hours without a goal, Ferguson’s exuberant celebrations brought him a yellow card for leaving the pitch.
The irony of serving Ferguson with a caution for a technical offence when he had earlier let a head-butt by the same player go unpunished confirmed that this was not quite Mr Clark’s day.
While there was much to admire in the lanky centre-forward’s footballing contribution to his first full game at Ibrox since 15 September – his deft touch, strong running and turn of pace all caused Raith problems – the question mark raised against his temperament by the head-butting incident must have caused concern inside Rangers.
The official line from his manager, Walter Smith, was that he did not see the incident.
Even so, the fact that Ferguson could become embroiled in such controversy from what began as a relatively trivial exchange in a match Rangers went on to win easily begs the question of how the striker would cope with the pressures of an Old Firm game or a hostile European tie.
At any rate, Ally McCoist, who was another of the many looking elsewhere when Ferguson lost his temper, attempted to put into perspective the problems his fellow striker has faced since becoming the most expensive player in British football.
McCoist, who took his tally for a disrupted season to ten with a typically opportunist goal, is better equipped than most to analyse the pitfalls awaiting a player at Ibrox.
He reckons that Ferguson did not fully appreciate just how difficult it would be to become a success with Rangers.
“Duncan has not had an easy time of it since he came here but scoring his first goal for the club will help to take the pressure off him,” said McCoist. “He’s a daft, likeable lad desperate to do well. There’s no avoiding the fact that, as the most expensive player in the country, he’s the kind of character who will get stick from opposing fans.
“But all the players here are willing him to do well.”
Although he resembles Mark Hateley in so much as the pair are both left-sided and tall, Ferguson brought different qualities to Rangers’ attack.
The ball was played on the ground more than it is when Hateley leads the line and Rangers revelled in the freshness of a different approach.
McCoist was bright and eager, Durie was brisk and intent. Raith were prepared to cope with the cutting edge of their contributions but, as Raith manager Jimmy Nicholl admitted later, when David Robertson gave Rangers the lead with a shot of thrilling ferocity after 17 minutes, the Stark’s Park side knew they were in trouble.
Before he went off in the second half with a recurring hamstring problem, Robertson had enjoyed a wonderful match.
The goal from fully 25 yards was so sweetly struck that Scott Thomson didn’t see it until the ball blurred past him.
Released from defensive duties to forage down the left, Robertson spent more time in the opposition penalty box than his own. He almost added a second goal with a bristling shot which shook the woodwork and supplied the pass which later sent Ferguson on the way to goal.
Alexei Michailichenko completed the rout with a piece of smart thinking when he took a clever pass from Ferguson and played the ball into the net off McStay’s legs.
Rangers had moments of slackness in defence and gave the ball away more often than they would like – Raith missed two good chances before falling behind – but, when they stepped up a gear, the quality of their play was mighty impressive.
Nicholl reckoned that his former club had played so well they looked as if they had an extra man on the pitch.
Making light of the Duncan Ferguson incident, Nicholl added: “Maybe he was the extra man in the second half.”
Rangers: Maxwell, McCall, Robertson (Hateley,76), Gough, McPherson, Brown, Durrant, I Ferguson, McCoist, D Ferguson, Durie (Mikhailitchenko, 46).
Raith Rovers: Thomson, McStay, Rowbotham, Coyle (Dair, 46), Dennis, McGeachie, Nicholl (Cameron, 62), Graham, Hetherston, Crawford, Lennon.
Referee: K Clark.