Requiring a victory to bounce back from last week’s loss to Hibs, which stripped the Championship title favourites of their cloak of invincibility within the second tier, Rangers were delighted to get another five-star performance from striker Martyn Waghorn as Scottish football’s leading league goalscorer netted twice as the hosts cruised to victory.
The 25-year-old was at his elusive best. Dropping deep to help link play with the midfield before teleporting into the penalty area to get onto the end of chances.
In front of goal he has enjoyed more clinical days. Completely missing a low cross in the first half with the goal right in front of him, before having a number of opportunities to earn a hat-trick thwarted by last-ditch defending and good goalkeeping.
However, he still did enough to earn the man-of-the-match reward, helped out by two strikes of fine quality, and it wasn’t a surprise to hear the opposing manager sing his praises after the full-time whistle mercifully put Alloa out of their misery.
“I thought his movement was wonderful,” said Danny Lennon. “As much as we tried to flood those gaps, NASA couldn’t keep track of him. His movement, absolutely fantastic.”
Waghorn got the scoring started on ten minutes when goalkeeper Andy McNeil’s poor clearance landed at his feet 20 yards out. The striker immediately returned the ball toward goal with a low drive on the half-volley that found the back of the net.
James Tavernier doubled the scoring with a tremendous, and now trademark, free-kick, but Rangers had to survive a couple of scares from their opponents before Waghorn put the result beyond doubt.
Drifting in behind the defence, he helped Barrie McKay’s cross over the onrushing McNeil with a perfectly executed first-time flick that landed over the line after hitting the underside of the bar.
Nicky Clark then completed the 4-0 win with a late header.
“Waghorn has been great since he came in,” said McKay. “He’s a natural finisher and having him here is a bonus to all of us. I’ve set him up for quite a few of his goals this season. If you give the ball to him then nine times out of ten he’ll put the ball in the back of the net.
“We’ve still got a lot of the season to go and I’m sure he’ll pick up a lot more goals.”
Having someone capable of such deceptive movement, with a keen eye for goal, counteracts opponents who will come to Ibrox and, such is their right, keep ten men behind the ball as they look to limit the damage the hosts can inflict.
Alloa may have lost by four goals, but the fact Lennon was still happy to talk about positives showed the task that had lain before the visitors before the match.
And there were times when Rangers were frustrated by Alloa’s defensive solidity and dogged determination not to be embarrassed by the scoreline.
It’s a part of the learning curve for Mark Warburton’s side, who’ll look at Hibernian’s impressive 4-1 win at St Mirren on the same day and know there is little room for error in the Scottish Championship title race.
The Rangers boss always wants to play passing, expansive and attacking football. But with the prize of a return to the top flight up for grabs, he knows the system has to generate goals to keep them on top of the pile.
“It’s not as easy as it looks. They worked hard and were difficult to break down,” said Warburton. “For all the possession we talk about, it means nothing unless there’s chances and goals. All the possession is geared towards creating those chances and taking those chances.
“It is difficult when there is nine or ten men behind the ball. We have to be patient, we have to show quality. Whatever it is we have to show the quality to break them down.
“The reaction from the players, they wanted to come out and make a statement of intent. There was no lack of focus, no lack of concentration.
“We’re five points clear and have lost one game, so we’re in great shape right now.”