Naismith and Davis help to ease Rangers’ Europa blues
But while Ally McCoist’s men duly secured the victory over Aberdeen which was imperative in starting the recovery process demanded of the new manager, it was far from straightforward and less than convincing.
Leading through a Steven Davis goal after 15 minutes, Rangers lost their way to an Aberdeen side who dominated lengthy spells of the second half. Craig Brown’s men should have drawn level long before Steven Naismith added stoppage time gloss to a win which restored Rangers to the top of the SPL.
It was a generally incoherent performance from McCoist’s men but this was unquestionably one of those occasions when the manner in which the result was achieved was of little consequence as far as he was concerned.
The quality of Davis’ goal, in its manufacture and execution, at least illuminated a first half which was otherwise as drab as the unseasonable weather which enveloped Ibrox. The breakthrough strike came as sharp relief to the home support who had seen their side look ponderous up until that point.
Even with Aberdeen reduced to ten men for a sizeable chunk of the opening exchanges, midfielder Isaac Osbourne having to leave the field for treatment to a head wound suffered after just three minutes, Rangers found it difficult to bring any pace or fluency to their play.
A slack pass back from Ryan Jack presented the champions with their first sight of goal but it was wasted by Gregg Wylde, the young winger dragging his left foot shot wide of Aberdeen goalkeeper David Gonzalez’s left-hand post.
Kyle Lafferty came closer when he latched onto Nikica Jelavic’s pass and drove a right foot shot narrowly over from just inside the box and it was the strike pairing who duly combined to create the 15th minute opener.
Lafferty found Jelavic some 30 yards out and the Croatian picked out Davis’ run into the box with a perfectly weighted first-time through ball. Davis showed composure and awareness with the finishing touch, cutely stabbing a right foot shot to the left of the advancing Gonzalez and into the bottom corner of the net.
Rangers did not gain as much momentum as might have been expected from the goal, Aberdeen’s five-man midfield continuing to frustrate them. The visitors offered little in the way of attacking menace, although McCoist would have been concerned at how easily Scott Vernon rose to meet one of Kari Arnason’s long throws to head over from around eight yards.
While hardly placing Aberdeen under the cosh at the other end, Rangers did have several decent opportunities to make life more comfortable for themselves before the interval. Dorin Goian headed a Wylde corner over from close range, before Jelavic sent a snapshot wide of Gonzalez’s right hand post from around 12 yards. The clearest chance was missed by Maurice Edu as the American midfielder delivered another painfully ineffective performance. Wylde picked him out with a cross from the left but, as he had against Maribor on Thursday, Edu proved incapable of finding the net with a close range header as he guided the ball wide of the target.
Rangers were forced to make a change on the stroke of half-time, Goian limping off with a knee injury. He was replaced by Steven Whittaker who played at right-back in a back four which saw Kirk Broadfoot shuffled across to left-back while Carlos Bocanegra partnered Ross Perry in the centre.
The first sign of Aberdeen’s vastly improved performance level after the break came when Vernon seized on an error by Perry and drove through the centre, only to elect against having a shot in favour of trying to take the ball around Allan McGregor which led to the chance being lost.
Wylde hit the crossbar with a cross-cum-shot at the other end but Rangers’ play was becoming increasingly ragged and they were exceptionally fortunate not to concede a 57th minute equaliser. McGregor, having just showed tremendous reactions to prevent Bocanegra from putting through his own goal as he dived to his right to claw away the defender’s miscued header, was unconvincing as he beat out a long range shot from Vernon. The ball broke into the path of Richard Foster but the Aberdeen captain, who spent last season on loan at Rangers, directed his free header against the crossbar from around ten yards with the goal gaping.
McCoist introduced Alejandro Bedoya for the injured Lafferty with just over 20 minutes remaining and the young American international might have scored with the first meaningful touch of his debut, sweeping a left-foot shot just wide from Jelavic’s cross.
But it was Aberdeen, now passing the ball with greater confidence and accuracy, who seemed the more likely side to score in the closing stages as the home team became ever more nervous. Certainly, the scoreline was given a flattering impression as far as Rangers were concerned when they finally eased the tension by doubling their lead in the first minute of stoppage time.
It was dreadful error from Gonzalez which presented Naismith with his fourth goal of the season. The Colombian goalkeeper spilled a Davis free-kick, allowing Naismith a simple close range tap-in
Rangers: McGregor, Broadfoot, Perry, Goian (Whittaker 45), Bocanegra; Edu, Davis, Naismith, Wylde; Jelavic, Lafferty (Bedoya 69). Subs not used: Alexander, Fleck, Healy, Ortiz, Kerkar.
Aberdeen: Gonzalez, McArdle (Chalali 76), Mawene, Considine, Foster; Jack (Pawlett 46), Fyvie, Osbourne, Arnason, Milsom; Vernon (Magennis 71). Subs not used: Brown, Mackie, Megginson, Shaughnessy.