THE jostle for Championship play-off places continues to prove the most compelling aspect of this Scottish football season.
Scorers: Lyle 33, Kidd 46, Reilly 69
Rangers, prior to last night’s unforeseen capitulation, looked to have seized the initiative from Hibs in the topsy-turvy battle for second place after a three-game winning streak which was being widely billed as evidence of a resurgence.
Victory last night against a Queen of the South team who had slipped out of the top four following a patchy run of recent form would have secured the Ibrox side’s place in the play-offs and left them red-hot favourites to finish second. But on a bonkers spring night in Dumfries, the Ibrox side were back dicing with the type of calamity that has ravaged much of their season, while Queens roared back above their long-time rivals Falkirk in an enthralling race for fourth place.
Rangers had returned to Palmerston intent on banishing the memory of that dark December night when they lost 2-0 in Ally McCoist’s last game in charge. Instead, they were subjected to one of their most ignominious evenings of this wretched season when their mini-form spurt was emphatically ended by a ruthless Queens side who have now taken seven points from the pre-season title favourites this season. Goals by top scorers Derek Lyle and Gavin Reilly, either side of a Lee Wallace own goal, did the damage.
Both sides entered the match buoyed by victories over teams from Edinburgh in their previous outing. Queens manager James Fowler made one change to the side that won 1-0 at Hibs, with Lewis Kidd, a half-time substitute at Easter Road, coming in for Michael Paton, who dropped to the bench. Rangers made three alterations to the team that was so impressive in beating champions Hearts 2-1 at Ibrox on Sunday. Goalkeeper Cammy Bell dropped out through injury and was replaced by former Queens player Lee Robinson. Bilel Mohsni replaced suspended skipper Lee McCulloch in defence, while David Templeton came in for Dean Shiels. Wallace took the captain’s armband in McCulloch’s absence.
The first instance of threat to either goal came in the 14th minute when Rangers midfielder Andy Murdoch launched a hopeful long cross into the danger area and Queens goalkeeper Zander Clark, frantically backpedalling, had to paw it over the crossbar. The hosts failed to fully deal with the resulting corner and Kevin Holt was forced to make a desperate saving tackle in a central position 12 yards out as Nicky Clark, the former Queens striker, looked like forcing his way through a ruck of bodies for a free shot at goal.
The danger still wasn’t clear for the hosts and Haris Vuckic rolled a short corner to Wallace whose nicely-weighted cross to the back post was headed narrowly wide by Clark. With Rangers enjoying the lion’s share of possession, Templeton began to make his presence felt midway through the first half. In the 19th minute, the winger stepped in from the left and rasped a
25-yard shot over the bar.
Six minutes later, his chipped cross from the left almost dropped just over the bar. The former Hearts player then had two powerful strikes from distance charged down by Queens defenders within the space of a couple of minutes.
The visitors’ early control counted for little, however, as Queens made the breakthrough with their first clear sight of goal in the 33rd minute. Kidd collected a delightful pass from Danny Carmichael wide on the right, powered his way past Wallace, who claimed for a foul as he appeared to lose his footing, and cut the ball back for Lyle, who took a touch before planting a shot into Robinson’s right-hand corner from eight yards out. It was the veteran’s 17th goal of a remarkable season.
Queens were roused, and three minutes later Reilly cut in from the left and drilled in a powerful low shot from the edge of the box which was clutched by Robinson.
Rangers went close to an equaliser in the 39th minute when the hosts failed to deal with a Vuckic corner and Kenny Miller’s looping header dropped against the top of the bar. The Ibrox side felt they should have had a penalty seconds before the break when Wallace, bursting into the box, fell under a challenge from Mark Durnan. It looked a strong claim, but referee Don Robertson, who was well-placed, took no action.
Wallace’s sense of grievance would have been exacerbated significantly less than 20 seconds into the second half when he inadvertently helped the hosts into a two-goal lead. Straight from kick-off, Reilly scampered down the left flank and crossed to the back post. Kidd knocked the ball back goalwards and Wallace, trying to clear, merely succeeded in bundling it over the line.
Rangers’ frustration was heightened when Templeton was booked for diving and, although they staged a brief rally when two long-range efforts were saved by Clark, things were only destined to get worse for the visitors.
In 68 minutes, Kevin Holt dispossessed Rangers substitute Robbie Crawford and slipped the ball through for Reilly, who gleefully slotted beyond Robinson for his 14th goal of the campaign. It meant the last 20-odd minutes was something of a party for the home support, who were able to goad their humbled visitors mercilessly, with every misplaced pass or act of frustration from a man in red met with unbridled glee.
They’ve had their fair share of glory nights at Palmerston in recent years, but this, their biggest-ever win over Rangers, was right up there with the best. For Rangers and their shellshocked fans, it was merely another dismal occasion in a dire campaign.
Queen of the South: Z Clark, Durnan (Hooper 77), Dowie, Higgins, Kidd, McShane, Carmichael, McKenna, Holt, Lyle (Pickard 85), Reilly (Russell 88). Subs not used: Paton, Atkinson, D Smith, A Smith.
Rangers: Robinson, McGregor, Zaliukas, Mohsni, Wallace, Templeton (Crawford 59), Law, Murdoch, Vuckic, Miller (Hardie 73), Clark (Boyd 77). Subs not used: Black, Shiels, Simonsen, Sinnamon.
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