Scorer: MacLeod (18)
After 6-0, 3-0 and 2-0 victories previously over the Lanarkshire side, Rangers had to settle for the narrowest of margins tonight with Lewis Macleod scoring the only goal in the first half. It was enough to re-establish the Ibrox club’s 14-point lead at the top of the table but it was a performance which lacked invention and cohestion for long periods.
On what is always a poignant day in Rangers’ history, their hosts held a minute’s silence before kick-off to mark the 43rd anniversary of the Ibrox Stadium disaster in which 66 people lost their lives. It was perfectly observed by both sets of supporters. The Rangers fans also marked the occasion with a prolonged burst of applause in the 66th minute of the match.
Since Rangers romped to that 6-0 win on their first visit of the season to this venue back in August, those form lines have proved exceptionally reliable. McCoist’s men returned last night as the runaway Leage One leaders, while Airdrie are battling to avoid being cut adrift at the bottom.
Jim Ballantyne, the Airdrie chairman and erstwhile president of the Scottish Football League, used his column in the matchday programme to bid farewell to what he colourfully described as a “seriously shit” 2013.
His team are hoping for better times under manager Gary Bollan and the former Rangers full-back saw his men make a reasonably encouraging start, Caolan McAleer coming close in the second minute with an ambitious shot from wide on the right which drifted narrowly beyond Cammy Bell’s right hand post.
But Rangers soon began to dominate possession and had established clear superiority in the balance of play even before Macleod put them in front. It took a brave and alert block from Gregor Buchanan to keep out Fraser Aird’s netbound shot in the fourth minute after fine build-up play from Lee Wallace and Macleod down the left.
Airdrie ‘keeper Danny Rodgers then produced a good save to deny Nicky Clark, racing from his line to prevent the striker converting a flick-on from Jon Daly. But Airdrie did not learn the lesson of that direct attack from Rangers who went ahead from a similar move in the 18th minute.
French right-back Sebastian Faure launched the ball towards the edge of the penalty area where Daly rose to nod the ball down into the stride of Macleod. The 19-year-old midielder displayed good poise as he cut inside onto his right foot and steered a low shot beyond Rodgers’ right hand into the corner of the net from around 20 yards.
Rangers almost doubled their advantage four minutes later, Wallace exchanging passes with Clark on the edge of the box and then showing delightful footwork before sending a shot narrowly wide of Rodgers’ left hand post. Wallace was able to surge forward from left-back at will and, not for the first time this season, looked every inch a player who is performing way beneath the level of football his talent merits.
As they tried to subdue Rangers, some of Airdrie’s tackling was, to put it kindly, over-enthusiastic. Nathan Blockley and McAleer picked up first half booking for wild challenges on Ian Black and Macleod respectively.
While it remained 1-0, Airdrie retained hope and lone striker Jim Lister might have done better than send a free header from Willie McLaren’s free-kick straight at Bell when the home side engineered a rare sight of goal.
Rangers were wasteful at the other end as they looked to tighten their grip on the match, Daly heading over from Nicky Law’s cross and then Bilel Mohsni nodding wide from close range when picked out by Aird.
Play became increasingly disjointed in the second half, Rangers struggling to find any spark or cohesion through midfield. Airdrie remained combative, Mick O’Byrne the next into referee Greg Aitken’s book for a late challenge on Daly. Opportunities were scarce at either end but Daly looped a header just over from another Law delivery.
Airdrie sent on new signing Kiegan Parker as they sensed the prospect of salvaging something from the contest and the precarious nature of Rangers’ lead was underlined when Gregor Buchanan sent an acrobatic shot narrowly wide of Bell’s left hand post in the 76th minute.
Rangers suddenly found themselves having to work hard just to protect their winning position and they were indebted to Bell in the 88th minute when he got down low to his left to brilliantly get a touch on a McLaren shot before Mohsni scrambled the ball to safety.
A fractious ending to the match, which had seen Mohsni, Lister, Jamie Bain and Black added to the list of bookings, ended with players from both sides being pulled apart after the final whistle. It was difficult to see how anyone had become so animated by such mundane fare.
AIRDRIE (4-5-1): Rodgers, Bain, O’Byrne, Buchanan, Gilmour; McAleer, McCormack, Blockley (Parker 71), Watt, McLaren; Lister. Subs not used: Boyle, Coult, Cadden, Grier, Coogans, Stewart.
RANGERS (4-4-2): Bell, Faure, Mohsni, McCulloch, Wallace; Aird, Black, Law, Macleod (Crawford 90); Daly, Clark (Foster 86). Subs not used: Peralta, Simonsen, Shiels, Cribari, Little.