THE turkey shoots so prevalent early in the season have all but dried up but Rangers are still finding a way to get the job done. Against a dogged and determined St Mirren side, this was far from their best performance of the season– manager Mark Warburton, channelling his inner Len Goodman, awarded it a mere “six out of 10” – but the end result was still the same. An eleventh successive victory extends their lead at the top of the SPFL Championship to eight points and disappointed an expectant Hibernian– who had maybe hoped Rangers would drop points in Paisley – ahead of what should be an enthralling meeting between first and second at Easter Road on Sunday.
It was always going to be a big ask for Rangers to continue to score four or five every week once the opposition began to fathom out Warburton’s gameplan but, in a perverse way, this narrow, hard-fought victory almost pleased him more given it allowed him to see what his goalkeeper Wes Foderingham and two centre halves, Rob Kiernan and Dominic Ball, were capable of. Against a gnarled old veteran in Steven Thompson, who rampaged around tiredlessly in attack at the age of 37 to pick up the man of the match award, the trio gave solid displays that heartened their manager.
In the end only one goal, scored by Jason Holt after 25 minutes, would prove enough for Rangers and what a strange goal it was. Jamie Langfield, the St Mirren goalkeeper, has cultivated a reputation over the years as a largely dependable goalkeeper but one prone to costly moments of brainfreeze. Here was another entry on to that fairly lengthy charge sheet. An entertaining, ferociously-paced first half had just nudged beyond the midway point when Martyn Waghorn laid off a pass to Holt. A heavy first touch from the former Hearts player looked to have carried him too wide of goal but he still had the audacity to try his luck from an acute angle. His shot had power and accuracy but should have been easily gathered by the goalkeeper. Instead, mystifyingly, Langfield could only wave at the ball as if attempting to flag a passing taxi, expecting Holt’s shot to drift off target. Instead it nestled neatly in the far corner of his net and all St Mirren’s rising optimism had been punctured in a split-second.
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Rangers probably needed that bit of good fortune as this was another day when the goals did not flow as readily as they had earlier in the season. Shorn of the stricken Nathan Oduwa who did not recover from the bumps and knocks accrued earlier in the week against Livingston, the Ibrox side still fashioned enough chances to put the game beyond St Mirren long before the end. Instead they found themselves triumphing by a single-goal margin for the third game in a row.
It would prove a frustrating afternoon for Kenny Miller, in particular. Miller’s willing, even at the age of 35, could never be called into question but on this occasion it was his touch in front of goal that let him down. There was an early volley that sailed over the crossbar, another scuffed shot that dribbled wide of the post, while a moment’s hesitation at another chance allowed Jack Baird to put in a terrific last-ditch saving tackle. When Miller did finally poke the ball past Langfield, the linesman’s flag quickly – and correctly – curtailed any celebrations. It was one of those days for the former Scotland player.
He was not the only culprit in the Rangers team. Goodness only knows how Andy Halliday did not score at the back post after James Tavernier’s winding pass found its way through to him late in the half but it was another example of Rangers making it harder for themselves than was really necessary.
In fairness, much of that was also down to St Mirren who played with a tempo and a determination that was been too often missing in some of their earlier displays this season. In the skilful pairing of Stephen Mallan and Scott Agnew they had two of the game’s best performers and, although they were not battering down the Rangers door for 90 minutes, they created enough chances that on another day would have yielded a point if not more. They are still to record a home league win this season although on this occasion it was certainly not for the lack of trying.
They may come to curse the resolve of Foderingham who made a number of impressive saves to more than earn his clean sheet. The goalkeeper was something of a bit-part player earlier in the campaign when Rangers were battering teams into submission and the opposition was barely spotted in his penalty box but in recent times he has had to demonstrate his worth and he more than did so here.
Within 40 seconds he was clawing Agnew’s dipping long-range effort over his crossbar and before the game was out he would have broken St Mirren hearts on multiple occasions. A Mallan free kick, seemingly destined for the corner of the net, was parried by the Englishman, while another Agnew drive early in the second half was also repelled. Even in the closing stages, Foderingham was still making an impact, denying substitute Lawrence Shankland the chance of a late equaliser. Warburton could not help but smile.