It may have taken a quarter of the Premiership season, but Rangers yesterday dished out the sort of pasting that they were expected to produce on a semi-regular basis when stepping up to the top flight.
It placed them in a league position that was supposed to be the least the season would offer them, results elsewhere allowing them to move into second... nine points behind a Celtic side that have played a game fewer. Nevertheless, the three-goal winning margin over a Kilmarnock they cut to shreds brought Mark Warburton’s team their biggest league win since they were horsing Championship opponents in January.
Undeniably, the Ibrox club’s display was their best of the season. They were driven, direct and, at times, dashing in their attacking intent. Josh Windass provided the invention and, with bustle and boundless energy, Michael O’Halloran and Joe Garner ably abetted him. The wonder of it all was that, with a hatful of chances they fashioned from the first minute, they ultimately did not have more goals to show for their efforts.
Kilmarnock manager Lee Clark despaired at the contrast between his team from Wednesday’s 2-0 win at home to Hearts and yesterday. His opposite number could delight in his side being transformed from the one that toiled to a 1-1 draw against St Johnstone at Ibrox in midweek. The Rangers support certainly did. They were full-square behind their team from the first whistle – despite the jeers which greeted the end of their encounter with the Perth club. Warburton was entitled to play up the positives after the grief of a week in which home points were dropped and the Joey Barton suspension saga meandered on.
“We wanted to be dynamic, we wanted to be positive in our decision-making and we got the early chances straight away,” the Rangers manager said. “Our intention was clear and we played a very pleasing first half. When we lost the ball, we reacted very quickly to get it back and win it high up the back and we created a host of chances.
“We knew Lee would look to galvanise them at half-time and we wanted to come out, get on the ball and score the next goal, which we did really early. We just controlled the game from there. Maybe the tempo dipped a little bit in the second half, understandably against a very good Kilmarnock side who were high on confidence coming here. I thought it was a very good performance.”
The tone was set with a 16th minute goal from captain Lee Wallace that resulted from Windass picking him out with a superb diagonal ball as he zoomed in behind the visitors defence down the left. Kilmarnock keeper Jamie MacDonald then sold himself by expecting Rangers captain to square it, gifted the full-back a vacant area at near post to stab the ball in.
Injuries to Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney surely will provide Wallace with the opportunity to take to the field for Scotland at Wembley a week on Friday, and so bring the 29-year-old a first cap in three years. Warburton has no doubts he would warrant the chance. “I have no doubts about Lee Wallace,” he said. “He is a top class professional and an outstanding captain of the club so never have any worries about Lee Wallace.”
Rangers second came from the penalty spot approaching the half hour after Steven Smith needlessly upended Jason Holt in the box to to allow Andy Halliday to bury his spot-kick into the corner. The third goal, just after the restart, showed the predatory instincts of Garner. He showed great alertness after an effort that Windass stubbed into the ground bounced towards him, the striker deftly directing it wide of MacDonald.
The virtual no-show from his side had Clark despairing. “We were nowhere near where we have been in the past three games,” he said of the seven-point haul earned through wins away to St Johnstone and home to Hearts, and a point in Inverness.
“It was disappointing and quite similar to Celtic [when losing 6-1 in Glasgow] in that we’ve been very passive. We thought we had an opportunity – with the confidence levels of the players, the way we’ve been playing, and their performance on Wednesday. We wanted to keep the game tight as long as we could so the fans would become a little bit nervous. But by letting them have a shot within 30 seconds,we allowed Rangers to gain momentum. The crowd got behind them and that made it a very difficult afternoon for us.