WITH three strikers on the scoresheet, an early platform built on solidly, and a solitary lapse wiped out within a minute, there was a lot for Rangers to be pleased about in this performance. But easily the most encouraging aspect about this straightforward win was the coherent and consistent teamwork.
Rangers 6-1 Raith Rovers
Scorers: Rangers - McCulloch (8), Law (36), Miller (55), Boyd (63), Daly (84, 90); Raith Rovers - Scott (54)
The two late goals by substitute Jon Daly gave the final score a more flattering look, and Raith Rovers allowed the home team far too much space at times. Yet, even allowing for those factors, this display was significantly superior to most of Rangers’ previous league outings, and has to bode well for their hopes of staying in touch with Hearts at the top of the Championship after a less than imposing start to the campaign for the pre-season title favourites.
“Hearts are obviously on the crest of a wave right now and they’re flying high,” Daly said after a result that kept his team nine points behind the Tynecastle club – and with a game in hand against Cowdenbeath still to come that margin should be reduced to six.
“But it’s down to us just to concentrate on ourselves and try not to worry about Hearts.
“Obviously it’s a result we look for when we come in, but we need to make sure it doesn’t get to us and go out and do our job and get three points ourselves. Then whatever Hearts do is secondary to our own results.
“There’s still a long way to go in the season and they’ve given themselves a great advantage at the moment, but we relish trying to close that gap and hopefully we can get in touch with them soon.”
Before this game, Raith had an impressive defensive record away from Stark’s Park, having conceded just two goals in the league – a total bettered only by the top two. But the virtues they had shown in those previous four matches were largely absent here, as they allowed Rangers far too much space.
The opening goal was an illustration of that, as Lee McCulloch rose all but unopposed to head in a Lewis Macleod corner. Rangers had also taken an eighth-minute lead in their previous outing, at Livingston, then failed to add another and were fortunate to end up with the three points. On Saturday, by contrast, for all that it took them almost half an hour to extend their lead, they were far sharper and self-assured.
Macleod, Rangers’ best player in recent weeks, was again part of the reason why they gained the upper hand, but as well as the penetration gained by him and Fraser Aird on the flanks, the drive of Nicky Law in central midfield ensured Raith were pinned back across the park. The Fife team had a promising spell after losing that early goal, with Paul Watson twice coming close with headers, but once Law clipped the second past Ross Laidlaw the game was all but over.
Crucially, when Raith mounted a comeback in the opening stages of the second half, Rangers quickly nipped it in the bud. Martin Scott headed in to make it 2-1 after Grant Anderson had headed back across goal from the far post, but within a minute Kenny Miller restored his team’s two-goal advantage, shooting home on the turn after a Kris Boyd assist.
A dreadful miss at Livingston had been the most embarrassing aspect of the longest scoring drought in Boyd’s career, but he at last got off the mark in the league with Rangers’ fourth of the afternoon, a 20-yard shot which Laidlaw feebly fumbled into the net after appearing to have saved it.
The two scoring strikers then gave way to Daly and Nicky Clark, and David Templeton came on for Macleod as Rangers finished strongly. With six minutes left, Daly slid in at the back post to steer a Richard Foster cross from the right into the net, and then on the verge of full-time the same two players combined, Daly this time volleying in a higher ball from the full-back.
It has been a frustrating season so far for Daly, who missed the start of the campaign after needing an operation on a knee injury and has subsequently struggled to displace Boyd and Miller. But on this form he could be due a start against East Fife tomorrow night in the quarter-final of the Petrofac Cup – a trophy which Rangers appear eager to win after their shock defeat by Raith in last year’s final.
“It’s a cup that we want to go and win, just the same as the other cups we’re in,” Daly added. “Last year still hurts – and the [Scottish Cup] semi-final defeat to Dundee United hurts as well. So hopefully, we can use that as a tool to help ourselves go further in these tournaments.”