Too Close for Comfort at Ibrox

Last updated : 18 January 2009 By Southside Johnny
Attendance 48,811

Rangers reduced the gap in the title race to two points as they came from behind to defeat Falkirk 3-1 at Ibrox this afternoon - but it was a far from convincing display from the Light Blues.

Manager Walter Smith made one change from Perth with youngster John Fleck making his first start in place of Steven Naismith.

There was an early shock for the home side when Steve Lovell opened the scoring, slipping the ball inside the far post from a McCann pass.

It took the Ibrox men quite some time to get back into the game - Kris Boyd, released on the right by Steve Davis in 26 minutes, squared to Kenny Miller whose shot was turned over by 'Bairns' goalkeeper Robert Olejnik.

Eight minutes later Rangers had a strong penalty claim turned down by Referee Willie Collum when Boyd was felled by Olejnik as he chased a Fleck cross. Miller received a yellow card for his troubles for protesting the non-decision.

The home side were now exerting considerable pressure - Miller fired across the face of goal in 36 minutes from a Broadfoot pass, then within sixty seconds Boyd headed down to Pedro Mendes whose twenty-yard volley flew just over.

Sasa Papac tested Olejnik in 42 minutes with a thirty-yard shot that the goalkeeper proved the equal to.

With the interval fast approaching it appeared that Falkirk's lead would remain intact - yet on the stroke of half-time Rangers WERE awarded a spot-kick when Patrick Cregg barged Boyd from the back. It was a clear penalty - and the centre made no mistake from twelve yards.

John Fleck had shown immense potential during the first-half, and two minutes after the restart his surging run down the left ended with a 22-yard shot that was held by Olejnik.

The visitors were reduced to ten men when Cregg received a straight red card in fifty minutes for a wild tackle on Mendes.

Rangers went for the jugular - and had yet another strong penalty claim ignored seven minutes later when a thrusting run from Papac saw him play through Boyd who had his legs taken from under him by Thomas Scobbie.

Fleck remained the main threat to Falkirk - another cross from the left on the hour found Boyd whose weak header was easily held by Olejnik.

Seven minutes later another Boyd header - this time from a Mendes cross - was touched wide by Olejnik.

It was ten-a-side in 77 minutes when a swift counter-attack by Mark Stewart was halted by a body-check on the halfway line from Papac. The referee produced a straight red which appeared to most observers somewhat harsh - it was not a dangerous tackle, nor was the Bosnian defender the last man.

Within sixty seconds however Rangers had the lead when Davis released Nacho Novo down the right, the substitute's low drive being pushed out by Olejnik into the path of Boyd who made no mistake.

Steven Whittaker replaced Boyd in 83 minutes as Walter Smith sought to consolidate his team's narrow lead.

Novo came close to sealing the win six minutes later when Mendes' break allowed Novo to cut in from the left only to see his shot turned wide by Olejnik.

The third goal duly arrived from the resultant corner - and it was a classic. Mendes played a short ball to Davis who cleverly worked his way along the bye-line before cutting into the middle and dispatching a low shot into the corner of the net.

The relief around the stadium was tangible - John Fleck incidentally had been voted 'Man of the Match' by the fans - and afterwards a relieved Walter Smith

RANGERS McGregor; Broadfoot, Bougherra, Weir, Papac; Davis, Ferguson, Mendes, Fleck; Boyd (Whittaker 83), Miller (Novo 72)
UNUSED SUBS Alexander, Edu, Aaron, Velicka, Ness

FALKIRK Olejnik; McNamara (Holden 45), Bullen, Pressley (Higdon 83), Barr, Scobbie; McCann, Cregg, Arfield, McBride; Lovell (Stewart 70)
UNUSED SUBS Riera, Barrett, Higdon, Barclay

REFEREE Willie Collum