TWO superbly-taken goals in injury time at the end of each half gave Rangers victory over ten-man Dunfermline.
SCORERS: Smith 45, Gallagher 90
It was no classic, although second-placed Dunfermline did their best, but, as so often this season, Rangers’ League One opponents just simply weren’t in their class.
It says everything about Rangers’ altered status that manager Ally McCoist made five changes from the team that clinched the title in midweek ahead of their Scottish Cup quarter-final replay against Albion Rovers on Monday night. “We know Monday night is a massive game for everybody at the club,” said McCoist. “We had a bit of an eye on [it].”
The vast majority of the crowd of 44,110 had anticipated saluting the new title-holders, and all 11 Dunfermline players sportingly applauded the League One champions on to the field.
The visitors suffered a blow in the fourth minute when goalkeeper Ryan Scully dislocated a toe while clearing the ball. Ryan Goodfellow came on for Scully, and did well, having no chance with either goal.
Bilel Mohsni became the first of six players booked in a niggly half, his challenge on Alex Whittle being high and late. Callum Morris headed the resultant free kick just over.
Cammy Bell got down well after 16 minutes to save Stephen Husband’s low shot, before Danny Grainger was booked for a lunge on Nicky Clark.
As the clock reached 18 minutes, all round the stadium Rangers fans raised blue cards raised in protest at the current directors’ running of the club, though the chorus of “sack the board” was a bit half-hearted. The gesture was repeated after 72 minutes, 1872 the year Rangers FC was founded.
On the pitch, the game deteriorated from duff to dire, as passes were misdirected and most of the attacks became aimless. Dunfermline had the better of what good play there was, and Mohsni had to dive to get his body in the way of Lawrence Shankland’s powerful volley. A bizarre double booking ensued just before the half-hour mark. Alex Whittle went down under an innocuous challenge and grabbed the ball thinking he was going to get a free kick. No, said referee Kevin Clancy correctly, as he flashed the yellow card. Dunfermline manager Jim Jefferies realised “it was not his day” and took the underperforming youngster off.
A few seconds later Clancy dished out another yellow as Richard Foster clearly elbowed the ball away while standing in the wall facing a Dunfermline free kick.
Jefferies did defend Ross Forbes, however, after his “fall” in the Rangers penalty box saw Clancy book the player for diving.
Rangers captain Lee McCulloch then took an accidental head knock as he went for a cross which Goodfellow punched clear as Clark looked set to head home. McCulloch then became the sixth player to see yellow for a tackle on Husband.
The one moment of quality in the half gave Rangers the lead. In the 49th minute, Andrew Geggan brought down Arnold Peralta outside the box and from 25 yards, Steven Smith sent a sublime left-foot curler into the top corner of Goodfellow’s goal. “Never saw that in training,” said McCoist.
The second half showed no real improvement on the first, but Rangers did more of the pressing at first. McCulloch was withdrawn early – “purely a precaution,” said McCoist – while the most notable point of the half was a debut for Rangers youngster Calum Gallagher, who came on for goalscorer Smith and was promptly involved in a dismissal.
It was almost inevitable with so many players on a yellow card that one of them would transgress again and when Grainger hauled down Gallagher, the Dunfermline player did not even wait to see the red card.
Rangers were happy to play a defensive containing game as perhaps evidenced by the fact that Richard Foster was named the sponsors’ man of the match, but to their credit, ten-man Dunfermline kept trying to gain the equaliser.
Inevitably, they left gaps at the back and when Ian Black broke away, the ball was cleared only into the path of Gallagher who thumped it home.