Kyle Lafferty told to do talking on pitch

RANGERS' victory at St Mirren Park on Wednesday night might jokingly be referred to as the one about the two Irishmen. As well as opening up a ten-point chasm between the Ibrox league leaders and a floundering Celtic, the 2-0 win also exposed just as sizeable a credibility gap between two players of similar hue in the champions' ranks.

Walter Smith invested an initial 3million to attract both Steven Davis and Kyle Lafferty from England on a permanent basis in the summer of 2008. The two men are feted for their showings for Northern Ireland. And that is where the comparisons between the pair end.

Davis was the architect to admire in an otherwise lacklustre win. Not just for the 90-second strike that brought him a first goal since the crucial derby win last May but for the way the 24-year-old continually probed and produced forcing runs. With Pedro Mendes and Kevin Thomson both on the bench, he seemed to revel in the greater onus falling on him to make the team tick.

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The contrast with Lafferty could hardly have been more acute. A striker who has scored in only one of 21 appearances at club level this season, his late double in the 6-1 victory over Motherwell was the only sugar-topping in an otherwise bitter season. The clumsy nature of his display in Paisley, both in terms of the 22-year-old's clattering challenges and snatching at chances, only served as a constant reminder of how much of a loss Kris Boyd is as he recuperates from a double-hernia operation. Even Davis admitted Lafferty, already on a booking, was taken off just after an hour the other night "in case he was sent off".

The midfielder, however, was keen to chat about the through ball from his team-mate both in blue and green that set him up for a first goal he said had been a "frustratingly long time in coming". That Davis did his best to put a positive spin on Lafferty's contribution – "I thought he played his part and was a handful," he said – says much about the general decency of an accomplished performer but modest man from Ballymena. Rightly or wrongly, general decency, accomplished performances or modesty doesn't come to mind when considering his colleague from Enniskillen. Feigning a headbutt to get Charlie Mulgrew red-carded, a horrible challenge on Andreas Hinkel in the last Glasgow derby, bigging himself up as a Bentley driver, and displays bereft of both confidence and craft are what does. "He just needs to get his head down and concentrate on his football," Davis said of Lafferty. "He's been in the press for the right and wrong reasons too much. I think everybody needs to get off his back. He's a young lad still. He just needs a wee bit of a run in the side, a bit of luck going his way and I know he can be a big player for Rangers.

"He is working hard and sometimes that can go against you and you can put too much into games. You have to try and relax and let your quality shine through and that is what Kyle needs to do. I see what he does for Northern Ireland and he has a lot of ability."

What is shining through as Rangers appear to be coasting their way towards a second consecutive championship is the "good team spirit, good work ethic" that has allowed Smith's men to time and again prevail even when performing poorly. They've strengthened their position while missing a host of players through injury, and missing out on bringing in reinforcements during the January transfer window because of Lloyds' desire to drive down their 31million debt, because of a number of factors. That they are the antithesis of Celtic is not just because they can score goals at the right times and keep clean sheets; it is because they possess midfielders who have been taken turns to become scorers as they have been deprived of Boyd's prowess in this domain. Most of Nacho Novo's goals have come when he has been playing wide, as is true of Steven Whittaker's eight strikes. And now Davis has got in on the act. Which has been long overdue, he believes.

"I was maybe a wee bit lucky with the finish against St Mirren but maybe that will kick-start me for goals between now and the end of the season," said Davis, who claimed a healthy eight last season. "There is always room for improvement in my game."