Kenny Miller underlined his enduring value to Rangers as he stepped off the bench to plunder a stunning goal which maintained their clear advantage in the Championship title race.
The 36-year-old striker’s 100th league goal in Scottish football was enough to earn victory for Mark Warburton’s men against a Queen of the South side who pushed them all the way and will feel more than a little aggrieved not to have taken something from the contest.
With Hibernian having applied some pre-match pressure on Rangers with their 3-0 win over Alloa in the earlier kick-off, it was a hard-earned but valuable win for the title favourites who remain eight points clear of Alan Stubbs’ men who have a game in hand.
Warburton would simply be relieved to emerge unscathed on all fronts from another fixture played on an artificial surface, following the furore which surrounding the injury sustained by top scorer Martyn Waghorn at Rugby Park in midweek.
Waghorn’s absence has placed additional onus upon Michael O’Halloran to hit his stride quickly as a Rangers player. The former St Johnstone forward, preferred to Miller in the starting line-up, almost made an immediate impact here, surging down the right into the Queens penalty area inside the opening 30 seconds before being unable to produce a finishing touch.
But, although Rangers were as dominant in possession as has become customary for them in the Championship this season, the hosts were not short of clear-cut chances.
Derek Lyle came close to giving them a fourth-minute lead, his close-range header from Mark Millar’s corner kept out by Wes Foderingham before the striker’s follow-up effort squirmed wide of the target.
Billy King, back in the Rangers side after missing the midweek win at Kilmarnock as he is cup-tied, saw plenty of the ball as he was deployed on the left of a front three.
The on-loan Hearts winger earned a free-kick which saw James Tavernier’s effort touched over by Queens keeper Jim Atkinson, then missed a premium opportunity to make the breakthrough himself. When Andy Halliday’s cross wasn’t cleared properly, the ball fell invitingly to King who badly miscued his shot from around 12 yards.
Nicky Clark, making only his fifth starting appearance of the season for Rangers, missed an even better chance in the 20th minute when Atkinson spilled a relatively tame 20-yard shot from Halliday into the striker’s path.
With the goal at his mercy, Clark struck his close-range shot too close to Atkinson who made a smart save.
Queens suffered a blow just after the half-hour mark when top-scorer Lyle limped off with a calf injury to be replaced by Iain Russell. But they almost took the lead against the run of play five minutes before the interval.
Rangers struggled again to deal with a Millar corner, clearing the ball only as far as Lewis Kidd who was lurking around 22 yards out. The full-back unleashed a terrific left-foot shot which, with Rangers keeper Foderingham watching helplessly, rattled off the crossbar.
With the frame of the goal still shaking, Rangers launched a rapid counter attack which left O’Halloran in the clear but he could only manage a shot straight at Atkinson who held the ball comfortably.
Tavernier called Atkinson into action again on the stroke of half-time with another free-kick which was touched over the top but Queens had generally resisted Rangers’ best attacking efforts with comfort.
James Fowler’s side made a purposeful start to the second half, perhaps with a renewed sense of belief they could take advantage against opponents not firing on all cylinders.
Jake Pickard should have put them ahead five minutes after the restart when he was the beneficiary of some indecisive defending from Danny Wilson and Rob Kiernan in the heart of the Rangers defence. But with only Foderingham to beat from close range, Pickard’s tame shot was diverted wide by the keeper.
Warburton made a double substitution on the hour in a bid to bring fresh impetus to his team with Miller and Dean Shiels replacing Clark and King.
The introduction of Miller reaped a rich dividend as he took just four minutes to make the breakthrough with his spectacular strike.
There was no obvious danger for Queens when Miller collected the ball from a throw-in on the left but he stepped infield and launched a right-foot half volley from 25 yards which looped beyond
Atkinson into the top left-hand corner of the net. Queens displayed admirable desire and enterprise in their response to that setback and Rangers lived dangerously on more than one occasion in the closing stages. Foderingham made fine saves to keep out Ryan Conroy’s free-kick and a fierce header from Chris Higgins, while Jason Holt almost provided Rangers with some breathing space when his shot struck the crossbar at the other end.
In the end, Rangers were relieved to hear the final whistle as they stretched their current unbeaten run to 11 games and remained on course for automatic promotion.
Referee: S Finnie
QoS: Atkinson, Kidd, Dowie, Higgins, Marshall; Conroy, Millar (Oliver 69), Hutton, Harris (Smith 83); Pickard, Lyle (Russell 32). Subs not used: Thomson, Brownlie, Jacobs, Tapping.
Rangers: Foderingham, Tavernier, Kiernan, Wilson, Wallace; Holt, Halliday, McKay; O’Halloran, Clark (Miller 60), King (Shiels 60). Subs not used: Bell, Ball, Law, Zelalem, Forrester.
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