IT MUST be pretty disheartening being one of the chasing pack trying to keep in touch with Rangers in the Championship right now. When they’re not sweeping teams aside with four or five-goal rampages, they are chiselling out hard-fought victories like this one over a defiant Queen of the South.
It took a 90th-minute strike by Martyn Waghorn, who only moments before had seen his spot-kick saved by Robbie Thomson, to secure the three points at Ibrox on Saturday. They all count, though, and the wins just keep on coming for Mark Warburton’s side, who have now extended their 100 per cent league record to ten games.
Queens were a bit of a nuisance to Rangers last season taking seven of 12 points in their league encounters and giving them a few heart-fluttering moments during their meeting in the play-offs.
Despite both clubs having undergone something of an upheaval in terms of personnel changes over the summer, it looked as though the Dumfries side were going to be at it again in this game.
Having weathered an early onslaught by the hosts, they helped themselves to a half-time lead courtesy of a fierce close-range finish by the ever alert Derek Lyle.
As Warburton reflected afterwards, this was uncharted territory for his side in the Championship, being the first time they had gone in at the interval trailing. Despite not being at their best in the final third, Rangers held their nerve, stuck to their high tempo game plan and in the end – or, indeed, right at the end – it came good.
Jason Holt finally found the route to goal for the hosts with a sublimely executed strike which owed a lot to a precision pass from James Tavernier, but it also needed the former Hearts midfielder to show composure as he drilled an angled shot beyond the advancing Thomson.
“It was up to us to keep doing the right thing to break them down,” reflected the delighted Holt.
“Then we just kept going until the final whistle. We want to keep this run going. Mark keeps telling us to take one game at a time and not to get ahead of ourselves.”
Keep going they did but it looked as though the unblemished record had gone when Waghorn, leading scorer and usually ruthless from the spot, saw his penalty turned away by the brave Thomson with just two minutes of normal time remaining.
No one disputed the award, which was given by referee Barry Cook after Andy Halliday had been bundled over by a challenge from Chris Higgins. All the more impressive, then, that Rangers and Waghorn dusted themselves down to still conjure up a winner with the seconds counting down, the Englishman getting his head to a Nathan Oduwa cross to send the decibel level at Ibrox off the scale.
It was hard not to feel some sympathy for the vanquished. Kyle Hutton moved from Rangers to Queens over the summer and thought he and his teammates had done enough to put something of a spoke in his former club’s wheels.
“It was disappointing the way it worked out”, he confessed. “We’d been working hard all week on our tactics. We contained them and made a few good chances of our own.” Asked what he thought was the most striking change about the Ibrox side this season, he was in little doubt. “They take more chances and leave more men forward. Their full-backs stay so high up the pitch.”
It seems to be working rather well for them at the moment.