RANGERS continue to enjoy an early season feelgood factor under Mark Warburton’s management after making a winning start to their Scottish Championship title bid.
But any expectations that the Ibrox side could romp their way to automatic promotion this season were perhaps tempered by the difficulties they faced before overcoming a gritty and enterprising young St Mirren team.
Captain Lee Wallace looked to have put Rangers on course for a comfortable victory when he scored twice inside the opening half hour, but Cameron Howieson quickly pulled one back for the Paisley side.
The pivotal moment of the evening arrived in the 57th minute when Saints skipper Steven Thompson missed the chance to equalise from the penalty spot.
Warburton’s team, who again produced spells of eye-catchingly progressive football, made the most of that let-off and finally sealed their win with a late goal from substitute Dean Shiels.
Before the bedlam of a full house atmosphere gripped Ibrox, there was a pause for reflection with a minute’s silence in memory of legendary former Rangers and Scotland defender Sammy Cox who passed away last weekend at the age of 91.
The left-back role which Cox filled with distinction for club and country may have changed beyond recognition since he played in Rangers’ first ever treble-winning side in 1949 but he would surely have appreciated the manner in which the current incumbent Wallace wrote his name large over this contest.
As the home side tapped into the almost frenzied hubbub created by their re-energised support, it took them just four minutes to translate a vibrant start into the opening goal of the night from Wallace.
St Mirren had cause for grievance over the source of the strike which came following a series of corners, the first of which clearly appeared to be awarded in error by referee Kevin Clancy and his assistant when a shot from Nicky Law, on the end of a fine move involving James Tavernier and Andy Halliday, went wide of Mark Ridgers’ left hand post.
That said, Saints boss Ian Murray would have hoped to see his team defend the set piece more effectively than they did. Barry McKay whipped it in from the right and when Ridgers and his central defenders were unable to cut it out, the ball broke to Wallace who smashed a left foot shot high into the net from around eight yards.
It was the perfect start for Rangers who contonued to dominate possession with some sharp and precise passing from middle to front. They were less assured with the ball at their feet in defence on occasions, however, with a tendency to overplay it which offered some encouragement to the visitors.
A loose ball from Rangers goalkeeper Wes Foderingham presented Scott Agnew with a chance to equalise in the 11th minute but the midfielder took one touch too many and the opportunity slipped by.
Rangers were soon back on the offensive, McKay hooking a shot over from Law’s cross as they probed patiently but persistently for a second goal.
It arrived in the 26th minute and this time Saints could have no complaints as they were carved open by an incisive move. Wallace started it, feeding the ball inside to McKay who shuttled it quickly into the path of Jason Holt. The former Hearts midfielder split open the Saints defence with a cleverly disguised pass, picking out the run of Wallace who drove a low shot beyond Ridgers from a tight angle.
But if the buoyant home support felt that was more or less a case of job done for their side, they were stunned when St Mirren halved their deficit just two minutes later.
The Rangers defence were caught flat-footed by a smart piece of play from Murray’s men, Sean Kelly and Paul McMullan combining to send Cameron Howieson sprinting into the left side of the penalty area from where he coolly planed a firm low shot beyond Foderingham’s left hand into the corner of the net.
After an interruption caused by a half-witted lone pitch invader, it was Rangers who ended the first half in the ascendancy. Martyn Waghorn blazed a shot narrowly over from 20 yards, then Holt forced a fine save from Ridgers who dived to his left to turn that effort behind.
Another surging run from Wallace had the home fans on their feet on the stroke of half-time as he linked up with Waghorn to create a a good chance for Tom Walsh who should have done better than blaze his shot over from around 14 yards.
The match remained firmly in the balance and there was a real reprieve for Rangers 12 minutes into the second half when Thompson perpretrated his howler from the spot. There was no doubt about the penalty award, Tavernier also collecting a yellow card as he crudely halted McMullan’s run into the area.
Thompson confidently grabbed the ball to take responsibilty but the former Rangers striker was left holding his head in despair when he blazed his effort wildly over the top.
Warburton made a double substitution just after the hour mark, Walsh and Holt making way for Nicky Clark and Dean Shiels.
Clark almost restored Rangers’ two-goal advantage, bursting clear to see a shot saved by Ridgers’ right boot after advantage had been played following a reckless foul by Jack Baird on Wallace.
The home side finally put the match beyond Saints in the 89th minute when Shiels netted from close range after his initial shot had been blocked by Ridgers.
Rangers: Foderingham, Tavernier, Kiernan, Wilson, Wallace; Law, Halliday, Holt (Shiels 61); Walsh (Clark 61), Waghorn, McKay (Templeton 84). Subs not used: Kelly, Aird, Hardie, Thompson.
St Mirren: Ridgers, Naismith, Baird, Kelly, Conlan; Carswell, Agnew; McMullan, Mallan (Gow 82), Howieson (Morgan 67); Thompson (Gallagher 73). Subs not used: Wilks, Goodwin, McLear, Cuddihy.