THIS was Ally McCoist’s share-issue style victory. His Rangers side did just enough to keep the wolves from the door, but not enough to suggest other than the howls will be within earshot again all too soon.
Livingston - 0
Rangers - 1
In fairness, through the acrobatics of overhead-kick goalscorer Lewis Macleod, there was blinding, match-winning quality within the Ibrox ranks that had been wholly absent in their Monday thumping by Hibernian, a defeat that ramped the pressure up on McCoist and caused the club’s followers to travel to West Lothian with trepidation – even when their hosts were coming off the back of a 5-1 horsing at Tynecastle.
McCoist cut a relaxed figure at full-time, far removed from the ashen-face captured by television cameras in the tunnel as his team trooped off after their ignominious display five days ago. With good reason, he talked up Macleod’s spectacular strike. And with fewer legitimate reasons, he talked up a performance hardly commanding, and, apart from the goal, notable for Kris Boyd’s continued struggles to notch a first league goal since his return.
Asked about the response he received from a team featuring five changes from the Hibs loss, McCoist sought to play down any notion that the thunderous outpouring that followed the defeat was justified. “I’ve tried to explain that sometimes, particularly at our club, there is no real middle ground,” he said. “It is either up here, or down there. We just have to accept that but within the camp we have a reasonable concept of the position and our own jobs.”
The fact is that all too often the football produced by the Ibrox side struggles to even be fair to middling. For spells, a Livingston side that ought to have been even more lacking in confidence moved the ball around with more poise and precision, as Rangers betrayed a ponderous nature that all too often bedevils their football. Indeed, the home side might well have conjured up an equaliser, Ian Black blocking a Kyle Jacobs’ header on the line with 17 minutes remaining, with plenty in the home ranks believing the ball had crossed the line before the midfielder made contact.
Whatever mediocrity stalks Rangers, Macleod, on his return from an ankle injury that had kept him out for two weeks, could be set apart from it. As he did when Black flighted the ball into the box after eight minutes and he swivelled as if performing a mid-air cartwheel to fizz an effort over his head and beyond Darren Jamieson.
“His technique and ability, deary me, it was a top, top goal,” said McCoist, who said it even eclipsed a spectacular effort he produced against Ayr United last season. “To do that, it was wonderful to watch and I don’t doubt there will be quite a few watching that over the next few days. We have to monitor his progress to ensure he becomes a top player.”
The top goalscoring talent that returned to Rangers in the summer in the shape of Boyd, who struck 22 times in Kilmarnock colours, is remaining hidden in Championship outings. His wretched run was exemplified when, immediately after the restart, a ball into the box set him up to tuck the shot away from eight yards only for the 31-year-old to swipe and see it run through his legs. Shortly afterwards he failed to connect when again seemingly teed up to score.
“He needs a goal, there is no doubt about that, but all I will say is it will happen for him,” McCoist said. “And Kris will agree that the most important thing was we won the game.” Macleod, meanwhile, didn’t see any need to make more of Boyd’s league drought: “He doesn’t need to prove to anybody he can score goals.”
The changes McCoist made from Monday were unsurprising in light of the plethora of deficiencies laid bare by the Easter Road men. His efforts seemed assisted by the retrospective two-game ban handed to Bilel Moshni for a fresh-air hook on Monday night. Even if the calamitous centre-back had been free to play, he surely would have been hooked himself… from the visitors’ Almondvale selection.
But the Rangers manager attempted to downplay the fact that he left out Darren McGregor, Steven Smith, Dean Sheils and Arnold Peralta – who didn’t even make the bench at Livingston – from the previous game. “It is important to say the changes weren’t out-and-out criticism of the players left out.”
As if plenty was not deserved.
Livingston: Jamieson; Sives (Glen 26), Talbot, Forydyce; O’Brien (Ogleby 86), Rutherford, Kyle Jacobs, Keaghan Jacobs, McKenna, Mullen (Hippolyte 74), White. Subs not used: Grant, Robertson, Praprotnik, Burchill.
Rangers: Simonsen; Zaliukas (McGregor 46), McCulloch, Wallace, Aird (Templeton 72), Law, Black, Macleod, Boyd (Daly 65), Clark. Subs not used: Robinson, Smith, Daly, Faure, Shiels.
Referee: S Finnie. Attendance: 5,924.