With Mark Warburton’s side already assured of stretching their current unbeaten run to 13 matches as they led Raith Rovers through strikes from Harry Forrester and Lee Wallace, another healthy home attendance erupted in delight at news of Andy Murdoch breaking the deadlock for Queen of the South against Hibs.
The midfielder is on loan at the Dumfries club until the end of the season and in consigning Hibs to a third successive defeat, he helped Rangers increase their lead at the top of the table to 14 points with nine games remaining.
Automatic promotion is now surely assured for the Ibrox men who will now briefly divert their attention from that priority to Saturday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final visit of Dundee.
Warburton was able to leave key duo Barrie McKay and Kenny Miller on the bench last night with that tie in mind. While his reshuffled side never really hit top gear, it was a victory which never looked in doubt once Forrester struck his second goal in successive matches.
Wallace’s second-half goal was Rangers’ 99th of the season in all competitions and they will hope to hit the ton against their Premiership opponents this weekend.
Forrester, making only his second starting appearance for Rangers since joining them on a short-term contract which expires at the end of the season, looked bright and inventive from the opening moments and it was no surprise that he should make the breakthrough.
His goal came midway through a first half which had turned into something of an impasse after the early promptings of Warburton’s men had been subdued and effectively countered by Raith’s industry and pressing.
Rangers had been unable to sustain an energetic start to the contest which saw Jason Holt come close after just two minutes when he curled a shot narrowly over from the left side of the penalty area.
Forrester had the home fans on their feet five minutes later with a driving run from a central position which ended with a low right-foot shot from 20 yards which drifted just wide of Kevin Cuthbert’s right hand post.
Raith responded robustly to those initial threats and caused a few moments of uncertainty in the Rangers defence as they caught the hosts in possession in
dangerous positions, albeit without testing keeper Wes Foderingham.
Before frustration could take hold of the home players or supporters, Forrester conjured up his fine opening goal. Receiving the ball from Billy King, he turned neatly on the edge of the penalty to completely wrong-foot his marker Ryan McCord before bending a right foot shot beyond Cuthbert’s left hand into the corner of the net.
Any hopes Raith harboured of recovering the situation, however, were dealt a significant blow when Rangers doubled their lead six minutes after the restart.
King, who troubled Raith captain Jason Thomson throughout with his pace down the left, was the creator as he engineered space to accommodate Wallace’s supporting run with the Rangers skipper drilling home his seventh goal of the season with a firm shot from the edge of the penalty area. Forrester, perhaps having done enough in Warburton’s mind to secure a place in the side against Dundee on Saturday, was replaced just after the hour mark by Dean Shiels.
The job was effectively done by that stage with Raith, despite a lively contribution from their on-loan Leicester City striker Harry Panayiotou, seldom threatening a meaningful response.
Rangers: Foderingham, Tavernier, Kiernan, Wilson, Wallace; Holt (Burt 81), Halliday (Bell 81), Forrester (Shiels 61); O’Halloran, Clark, King. Subs not used: Bell, Miller, McKay, Law.
Raith: Cuthbert, Thomson, Barr, Davidson, McKeown; Toshney; Craigen, Matthews (Thomas 61), McCord (Robertson 55), Anderson (Connolly 70); Panayiotou. Subs not used: Law, Callachan, Ford, Court.