Kyle Lafferty enjoys last laugh with moment that decides SPL race

KYLE Lafferty began the season being given a dressing-down by captain David Weir but has ended it as a lynch-pin in Rangers' championship-winning team.

It is not a rags to riches tale since Lafferty has been earning a more-than-decent wage at Ibrox since he arrived at the club in June 2008 a deal worth more than 3 million from Burnley.

Indeed, the sheer richness of this deal has helped hinder his progress as pressure from the Rangers fans, upset at his apparent fecklessness, began to bear down on him.

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Tellingly, shortly after Lafferty joined the club with a reputation as lofty as his physique, Rangers manager Walter Smith called for patience among a support restless to see an instant return from their latest high-profile signing.

Smith commented at the time: "He has played the majority of his career wide left but I see him as a striker. That's his best position – he plays there for the national team.

"He will be in and out of the team but will settle after a while."

It has, in truth, taken him far longer than that to settle, and he has often struggled to replicated the strong performances he has given on the international stage with Northern Ireland when he has pulled on the light blue shirt of Rangers.

Never did his future seem more bleak at the club than when bawled out by Weir at half-time in the defeat to Aberdeen at Pittodrie back in September. The Rangers skipper had not been impressed with the striker's attitude and Lafferty did not appear for the second half.

But the turnaround in the Northern Irishman's fortunes has been striking in recent weeks, and though he is still capable of looking like a Sunday League player, he is also able to produce such sublime moments as yesterday's solo effort to seal the championship for Rangers against Hibs.

It is his third goal in his last four outings for Rangers, but only his fifth of the season.

He also struck last season at Tannadice when Rangers secured the title with a 3-0 win over Dundee United.

The misfit with the hint of a mullet has become the man for the big occasion, and, like Harald Brattbakk at Celtic, has perhaps been absolved of perceived ineptness by an ability to score championship-winning goals.

• Rangers may have wrapped up the SPL title but internet bookmakers have installed them as the even money second favourites to retain it next season. The firm make Celtic their 4-5 favourites.

Paul Petrie, spokesman explained: "With the financial uncertainty at Ibrox we slightly favour Celtic as there is no way they can be as bad has they have been this season."