The ghosts of last season’s chronic underachievement by Rangers have been blown away by Mark Warburton’s recast side – and the same goes for any opponents who have crossed their path to date.
Raith were the latest to get a doing. Just like Alloa and Queen of the South previously, they ended up having five put past them as a club record ninth victory in nine opening games was clocked up in clinical but entertaining fashion. The potential for ill-will between the two sides following the spat over the return of Ibrox youngster Ryan Hardie from international duty with the Scotland Under-19s was effectively reduced to a footnote – the feelgood factor at Ibrox these days made sure of that – with the only reminder being the loud cheers when the youngster came on as a substitute with 20 minutes remaining.
Instead of “Hardiegate” this was all about the irrepressible form being shown by Warburton’s men, with goals as likely to come from full-backs as strikers as Lee Wallace and James Tavernier chipped in with one apiece in the first half. The mesmerising footwork of the on-loan Nathan Oduwa was a standout in this game and somewhat frighteningly could easily have led to an even greater margin of victory for his side.
“I thought the discipline and the focus of the team were really good today,” enthused Warburton. “There were a lot of good performances, but I’m delighted for Nathan. He knows what he has to do, it’s a big ask, he’s 19 years old and his aim must be to break into the Spurs first team.
“He knows what players he needs to be better than to achieve that goal. He showed good quality, workrate and teamwork. It’s not about one person but he deserved the applause he received today.”
When you consider the final scoreline it might seem incongruous to say that Rangers should have been completely out of sight by the interval, but such was their dominance they couldn’t have been grudged being further ahead than the two-goal advantage they held at that point.
Sandwiched between Wallace’s opener after four minutes and Tavernier’s precision finish right on half-time was a near non-stop probing of the Raith rearguard. Only a combination of both desperate and heroic defending kept Warburton’s men at bay after Wallace’s curling shot beyond Kevin Cuthbert had them on the back foot.
The combination of passing and incessant movement left the visitors with little option but to have almost everyone apart from one of the summer departures from Ibrox, Jon Daly, pressed into defensive duties. It worked in terms of damage limitation for a while, with Tavernier, Gedion Zelalem and Oduwa all seeing goalbound efforts blocked. But it was also a case that the hosts were still finding their range with Wallace and Danny Wilson just off target having found themselves space in the box.
It was only a matter of time until the Fifers buckled and Tavernier’s gracefully-executed second right on the break, along with a fine save by Wes Foderingham from a James Craigen screamer minutes into the second half that just about stunned everyone, did for them. Well, that and the near uncontainable exuberance on the ball of Obuwa. He left a trail of opponents dizzy in his wake as he burrowed his way from 40 yards out deep into the Raith box and his cutback was eased over the line by Barrie McKay.
He wasn’t the only one capable of foraging runs and if Martin Waghorn’s style was a bit more on the muscular side it wasn’t any less effective as he was tripped en route to goal by Lewis Toshney. The striker dusted himself down and stuck away the penalty with the minimum of fuss. Within five minutes he was repeating the punishment from the spot after poor Toshney had been led another merry dance by Obuwa and brought him down with a mistimed challenge.
With nearly a quarter of the game still to go, you wondered what more torment was yet to be visited upon the Kirkcaldy side. Apart from Hardie’s appearance as a substitute the final ignominy would have been for the youngster to get his name of the scoresheet. They were spared that one, while Waghorn had a couple of decent chances to get his hat-trick but that was hardly going to deny the record-breakers a raucous standing ovation from the home fans at the final whistle.
Rangers: Foderingham, Tavernier, Kiernan, Wilson, Wallace, Holt (Miller 61), Halliday, Zelalem (Law 61), McKay, Waghorn, Oduwa (Hardie 70).
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, Toshney, Benedictus, McKeown, Anderson (Megginson 62), Davidson, McCord (Matthews 57), Craigen, Stewart, Daly.
Referee: Brian Colvin. Attendance: 44,050