Rangers Open With Narrow Win
At the end of the week from hell Rangers got their League Championship campaign off to a winning start with a narrow 1-0 win over Falkirk at Westfield this afternoon in a grim, hard-fought encounter, thanks to a second-half goal from new boy Andrius Velicka.
Manager Walter Smith made four changes from the Kaunas debacle with new signing Madjid Bougherra from Charlton Athletic making his debut in place of the suspended David Weir and Kyle Lafferty, Kris Boyd and Andrius Velicka replacing the suspended Nacho Novo, Charlie Adam and Jean-Claude Darcheville.
On a day of atrocious weather conditions (particularly for the time of year) it was the visitors who made the early running with a fast low cross from Sasa Papac in three minutes being inches away from the in-rushing Boyd.
Two minutes later the Rangers centre was clean through on goal from a Kevin Thomson pass only to be hauled back by Darren Barr. Referee Dougie McDonald however saw nothing amiss.
The 'Bairns' could scarcely get out of their own half during the opening quarter, yet managed to squander the first clear-cut opening of the game in seventeen minutes when Michael Higdon sliced over the bar after Scott Arfield's effort from the edge of the box had fallen to him.
Eight minutes later 'Gers 'keeper Allan McGregor - captain for the day in place of the injured Barry Ferguson and the suspended David Weir despite his culpability in recent games - completely miss-kicked a Christian Dailly pass-back, but fortunately the ball was not on target.
The Ibrox men at last stirred themselves out of their stupor in 34 minutes when Kevin Thomson broke forward from midfield to test home goalkeeper Robert Olejnik with a shot from the edge of the box, then sixty seconds later the midfielder released Lafferty whose effort was parried by the 'keeper, Boyd's seizing on the rebound only to see his drive deflected wide.
The resultant Lafferty corner was headed goalwards by Christian Dailly only to be cleared off the line by John Stewart.
A surging solo run by Steven Whittaker in 42 minutes ended when his eighteen-yard shot was blocked by Darren Barr.
Rangers had ended the first-half on top, yet the home side were presented with an ideal opportunity to open the scoring four minutes after the restart when Steven Whittaker whipped the legs away from Kevin McBride. Dougie McDonald had no hesitation in awarding a penalty - but Michael Higdon's spot-kick was turned wide at full-stretch by McGregor.
That miss would prove crucial - for the visitors opened the scoring in 63 minutes when Velicka turned the ball home following excellent work on the right by Lafferty.
Thirteen minutes later it was almost 2-0 when Boyd's header from Dailly's cross was inches wide.
Thomson limped off in 83 minutes to be replaced by Adam.
Falkirk battled to the end but seldom looked like equalising, and Rangers had secured an opening-day win.
Afterwards Walter Smith reflected:
"It was good to get a win after a difficult week. We worked hard - Falkirk played well and made it difficult for us."
FALKIRK Olejnik; McNamara, Bullen, Barr, Aafjes; Latapy (M. Stewart 72)), Cregg, McBride (Mitchell 90), Arfield; Higdon (Robertson 82), J. Stewart
UNUSED SUBS McCaffrey, Barclay, Gibb, Staunton
RANGERS McGregor; Dailly, Broadfoot, Bougherra, Papac; Whittaker, McCulloch, Thomson (Adam 83), Lafferty; Boyd (Cousin 88), Velicka (Darcheville 72)
UNUSED SUBS Beasley, Alexander, Emslie, Furman
REFEREE Dougie McDonald