No Joey Barton, still no problem for Rangers. The Ibrox side secured their first away victory since August to rise to third in the league, for a few hours at least. But this hard-earned win does also mean they have posted back-to-back league victories for only the second time this season.
MSome momentum has returned and is timely too. Rangers’ next outing is the chance to avenge last month’s 5-1 thrashing at the hands
of Celtic in a League Cup semi-final.
Sitting fifth in the league, as they were at kick-off, wasn’t what the Ibrox faithful had hoped would be the case in October on their return to the top flight.
But, however unrealistic some Rangers’ fans ambitions at the start of the season, part of the re-acclimatisation process was coming to places
like Inverness and securing a result like this. It felt like a
significant staging post in their recovery.
Having rode their luck early in the game Rangers, helped by a classy performance from Niko Kranjcar in midfield, eventually settled, going ahead with a brilliant goal from Kenny Miller after 22 minutes. The 36-year-old striker is still showing what Scotland are perhaps missing right now with a superb volleyed finish for his third goal of the season and his 100th for the Ibrox club.
On an emotional night in Inverness – there was a minute’s silence before kick-off for Rangers fan Ryan Baird, who died in a bus accident on the way to watch the side’s last game against Partick Thistle – there was plenty of effort but little guile, except when Krancjar was on the ball.
But Rangers did just enough to prevail, seeing out a fraught four minutes of time added on to dampen the in-form home side’s spirits.
Richie Foran was just the latest manager to suffer the curse of the manager of the month award. Unbeaten since a 5-1 defeat at Hearts, his side’s string of good results came to an end here. After a bright start they fell away, much to the frustration of their fans on a brisk night in the Highlands.
Rangers, for their part, were targeting their first away victory since a win over Dundee at Dens on the second weekend of the league season.
They secured it, gathering themselves after a shaky start when Inverness should really have scored the game’s first goal. Lonsana Doumbouya is an athletic if somewhat agricultural centre forward whose attempts at holding the ball tested the patience of the home supporters.
He certainly made them splutter into their coffee and Bovril when missing a clear chance to put his side ahead after just three minutes. Stealing in unmarked at the edge of the six-yard box, his header from Ross Draper’s free-kick cleared the bar. It did look far easier to get the ball on target, at the very least.
But Inverness looked in the mood. It felt as though they would be able to overlook the miss in any post-match re-assessment since a goal was threatening to come in any case. Liam Polwarth shot straight at Wes Foderingham after another quick break from the home stand, while Doumbouya fired a far harder chance than his early header over the bar.
Rangers’ response was a speculative 25-yard effort from Martyn Waghorn that cleared Owain Fon Williams’ goal by a comfortable distance. But the tables were beginning to turn. Inverness were falling out of contention in midfield, where Kranjcar, aided and abetted by Jason Holt, was becoming ever more influential.
It wasn’t hard to miss the significance of this detail as Barton’s suspension by Rangers nears its supposed end, with still no one any clearer about where his future lies.
But few were thinking about Barton when Lee Wallace, the Rangers skipper, made his way down the left before crossing for Miller, who had created space for himself at the back post, as good strikers know how to do. But it was his finish that really underlined why he deserves to be bracketed among the top Scottish strikers of recent times. He steadied himself, drew back his right foot and volleyed low and hard past Fon Williams at the ’keeper’s near post.
If there were some grumbles from the home stands about Fon Williams’ part in the goal then he redeemed himself with a fine one-handed save to keep out Waghorn’s header. The ’keeper also did well to keep out Miller’s drive just a minute after the break.
Rangers looked to close out the win. Memories of Inverness’ high-energy start were beginning to fade before the hosts staged a late rally, their ire possibly stoked after a couple of penalty appeals had been waved away by referee Willie Collum. Substitute Aaron Doran saw his shot kicked away by Rob Kiernan as it inched towards the goal-line after Polwarth’s through ball.
When another substitute, Alex Fisher, saw his header from Doran’s cross go wide, the contention that nothing would deprive the visitors of the three points hardened, and so it proved. Miller, 37 in December, had once again shown his worth.