THEY MAY have started this game with a bit of a wobble, conceding a goal within the first couple of minutes, but it says something about their steadily improving resilience under Stuart McCall that Rangers recovered to have this game wrapped up just after half-time.
Dumbarton - 1
Rangers - 3
Hardie 10, 48; Vuckic 52
Referee: C Thomson. Attendance: 1,766
By doing so they compounded a pretty glum day all round for Hibs by extending their lead to four points over the Easter Road side in the chase for second place in the Championship and the crucial advantage that affords in the looming play-offs lottery.
It was not only a day that gave cause for optimism within Ibrox for the immediate future but also the longer term, as youngster Ryan Hardie, making his first start for McCall’s side, helped himself to a couple of goals either side of the break.
Along with a stunning strike from the impressive Haris Vuckic they were enough to put the shock of going behind to Mark Wilson’s opener comfortably behind them.
The prospect of Rangers making a return to the Premiership, which looked outlandish not that long ago, is now becoming more plausible.
“The aim today was to get all three points and we did that,” reflected a happy McCall afterwards. “I said at half time that we should have been ahead, but it wasn’t a case that we were stressing or tense.
“We just had to keep playing and thankfully we got the goals early in the second half that settled it. It should have been more comfortable, but everyone’s put in a shift today and it’s been a good day’s work.”
Asked about Hardie’s noteable contribution, he was keen to strike a balanced assessment.
“Ryan was only told at lunchtime that he was playing. We stressed to him beforehand the places he needed to go to get chances for himself. He’s still a kid and very raw but getting a couple of goals on his first start is great. His confidence is high and it gives us another nice problem to think about when picking the team next week.”
The game got off to an extra-ordinary, if near chaotic start, with McCall witnessing his side miss a sitter within the first 60 seconds as the normally prolific Nicky Clark ballooned the ball over the bar from six yards after Vuckic had split open the Sons defence.
A minute later the ball was nestling in the net at the other end after some poor defending left Wilson in the clear and he sent a shot whistling past Cammy Bell to put the hosts ahead.
Given the wave of unease that swept through Rangers’ support it was probably just as well for them that they didn’t hang about in getting themselves level again. The perceptive Vuckic swept the ball forward to young Hardie and although Danny Rogers in the Dumbarton goal managed to get a hand on his effort the youngster was able to force the ball over the line with his follow-through.
The visitors went on to enjoy a spell of near total dominance after this, but a combination of wayward finishing and some fine blocks by Rogers somehow preserved parity up to the interval, the goalkeeper’s palming away of a fierce drive from Nicky Law being a highlight.
Yet for all this, the occasional hint of vulnerability about the Rangers rearguard was always there. Having cleverly manoeuvred himself into space on the edge of their penalty box, the on-loan Dylan Easton should have at least tested Bell rather than shoot wide.
It was an equally dramatic opening to the second half with another couple of goals within seven minutes of the restart but this time they were both for Rangers, which ensured the game swung decisively their favour.
Hardie struck again with a neat, if speculative, overhead connection on Lee Wallace’s cross which gently looped its way past the wrong-footed Roger. Then Vuckic leathered a 30-yard angled drive into the far corner of the goal to soothe any frayed nerves in the visitors’ camp.
Dumbarton were out of it and the Ibrox side had chances to help themselves to a few more goals, with Law going close, while substitute Calum Gallagher miscued another great chance right at the end, but they had done enough to consolidate their hold on that much craved second spot.
Dumbarton: Rogers, Gilhaney, Graham, Findlay, Wilson, Easton (Megginson 72), Agnew (Linton 72), Kirkpatrick, Taggart, Fleming, Campbell.
Rangers: Bell, McGregor, McCulloch, Zaliukus, Wallace, Vuckic (Black 86), Murdoch, Law, Walsh, Hardie (Gallagher 86), Clark.