“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs...” It’s highly doubtful Mark Warburton – in the style of the infamous Ricky Tomlinson character Mike Bassett: England Manager – summoned the words of Rudyard Kipling to inspire his young league leaders prior to yesterday’s match, but at the end of a tumultuous week in the history of the Ibrox club the sentiment must surely have been stressed, for Rangers’ players showed no hint of distraction affecting their performance as they cruised past Alloa Athletic.
Once again Rangers are a circus off the park. A bonkers couple of days began with wannabe leader Mike Ashley reportedly calling for chairman Dave King to be locked up and ended with HMRC winning the Big Tax Case war against the oldco, with concerning news of a £7.5million operating loss revealed in the annual accounts sandwiched in between.
Last season, Saturdays were a chore for Rangers fans. The victories were attritional; the defeats embarrassing. Now the walls of Ibrox offer sanctuary from the madness that threatens to envelop the club, as fans unite behind a team that they fully believe will take them back to Scotland’s top flight.
“We have to keep Rangers on the back pages,” said Warburton. “It’s important to make sure the fans enjoy following their club. The responsibility is clear. There are 45,000 fans here. Go out and send them home happy with a smile on their face. It was a pleasing afternoon’s work.”
While the home support didn’t have to wait for the opening goal, it should have arrived sooner. James Tavernier played a slick give-and-go with Andy Halliday, bursting free into the centre of the penalty area. Incredulously, given the full-back’s ruthlessness in front of goal, he got his effort all wrong, poking it well wide with the outside of his boot.
Any question of whether Rangers were going to rue the early miss was answered four minutes later.
Alloa goalkeeper Andy McNeil vacated the frame of his goal to attempt a hurried clearance. Unfortunately for the former Hibs stopper, his punt sailed all of 20 yards before being blocked by the body of Martyn Waghorn, who drove a half-volley toward the empty net. McNeil, in his haste to get back into position, ran past the point on the line where the ball would cross.
Tavernier then made up for his earlier miss with a soaring free-kick from 25 yards that threatened to rip the net from the goal frame.
It was the Englishman’s 10th goal of the season – a week into November.
The tempo then noticeably dropped off for 20 minutes before revving back into life in the moments before half-time. Gedion Zelalem scooped a free shot from 15 yards over the bar after Waghorn picked him out. The striker was then a little profligate himself, failing to connect with a low Tavernier cross with the goal right in front of him.
Briefly, Alloa came to live as an attacking force. Michael Chopra nipped the ball through the legs of Dominic Ball, surged into the penalty area and cracked the underside of the crossbar with a powerful effort which rebounded away to safety. The former EPL striker then turned creator by feeding Eddie Fearns who would have been one-on-one with the goalkeeper if not for a perfectly executed last-ditch challenge by Lee Wallace.
Right away the hosts went up the other end of the park and made it 3-0. Initially the crowd were incensed when Zelalem wasn’t awarded a penalty after being knocked down by Mikk Reintam, but the cheers soon turned to jeers with Barrie McKay crossing for Waghorn to lift his finish over the goalkeeper. “Nasa wouldn’t have been able to track him,” was the apt description of the striker’s performance from opposing boss Danny Lennon.
Rangers continued to pile forward after the break with Waghorn twice denied in the 49th minute. The rest of the half continued, almost exclusively, in this fashion. Waghorn, Holt, Clark, Shiels and Waghorn (again) all had their chances but the ball wouldn’t cross the line.
Alloa tried valiantly to keep the score at marginally respectable level, though that task was made much more difficult when Ferns was shown a straight red card for kicking out at substitute Jordan Thompson as the pair tussled for the ball. With his teammates continuing to pass up opportunities, it was left to substitute Nicky Clark to place the cherry on top of the win, rising above the defence to loop a header past McNeil.