THE clocks go back, the seasons change and the natural order finally asserts itself.
Rangers, starting with six internationalists, yesterday eventually proved irresistible away from home at Broadwood. The law that class normally tells did not shout at Broadwood, but it whispered enough to make the result inevitable, especially as Clyde were reduced to 10 men.
Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager, has always insisted he was not embarrassed by the record of three away draws and a defeat in the Irn-Bru Third Division.
He would, though, be relieved after goals from Dean Shiels, of Northern Ireland, and Lee McCulloch, of Scotland, gave his side breathing space at the top of the league table.
This feeling of warm well-being for the Rangers manager amid the pouring rain of Cumbernauld was created by the accumulation of three points, but it could have been dissolved had Stefan McCluskey, of Clyde, taken either of two excellent chances when the game was intriguingly poised at 1-0.
These misses reveal two truths: first, Rangers are vulnerable defensively, even at this level, and second, that the composure to score regularly in such situations is not reliably the preserve of players in the fourth tier of Scottish football.
Shiels' opener in the 17th minute showed that class may be an elusive attribute in the hurly-burly of a third-division match, but it can come like a glimpse of sunshine in the autumn rain. His finish to put Rangers ahead was subtle, and devastating. McCoist had to wait for a further hour of play to pass before McCulloch knocked in at the back post an Ian Black cutback.
These 60 minutes would have tested McCoist's patience, but he could watch the final stages against a 10-man Clyde with a feeling of quiet satisfaction. This diminished Clyde – John Neill was sent off after 67 minutes for accruing a daft second yellow card for a clash with Shiels – could not regroup to mount a challenge and Rangers comfortably kept possession, maintained control and McCulloch's goal sealed a deserved victory.
It was, though, not without its moments of toil and tribulation. McCluskey should have scored in the first half when Bryan Gilfillan cut back the ball inside the box, but the striker's shot slid past. He had another excellent opportunity early in the second half, when his strong header was smartly saved by Neil Alexander.
The rest was mostly, if sometimes unconvincingly, Rangers. The visitors looked at their best when they played with pace and with more than a hint they would not submit to any physicality.
Black, whose most influential touch was the pass for McCulloch's clincher, was the victim of two challenges that drew yellow cards for Gilfillan and Neill, the latter significant when the Clyde player subsequently did the handbag strut with Shiels, but Rangers collectively and individually persevered.
Shiels was also, of course, involved in a more attractive moment when scoring the opening goal. A slackness of finishing in the first half and two excellent saves from Jamie Barclay – from McCulloch and Andrew Little – ensured the teams were only separated by Shiels' superb finish.
It was a goal produced by a mixture of direct football and subtle craft. Ross Perry and McCulloch engineered space for Shiels, who clipped the ball precisely in to the net from the edge of the box.
Clyde, a mixture of dogged organisation and frenetic energy, had put Rangers on the back foot with a Stuart McColm cross unnerving Alexander, and Neill glancing a header past after a strong incursion down the right by Gavin Brown.
There were bright spots amid the continual rain for those with Rangers sympathies. Little, starting his first match since September, was direct and dangerous in the first half before understand-ably fading, Black was tidy and provided cohesion when Rangers were at their best, and Alexander was faultless.
Rangers showed an appetite for the match and were strong in the tackle and in conviction, even if the subtle touch was sometimes missing. McCoist, wrapped in training jacket and waterproof trousers, knows that this division is one that makes particular demands, and it is an environment for the working jaicket rather than the dinner suit and cigar.
The manager's post-match comments indicated the reality of the division has impressed itself physically on Rangers. His side were up for the fight and therefore neutralised much of the Clyde threat.
The style of the performance may not win many points for artistic impression but it gained three points that take Rangers clear of Elgin City.
Another challenge presents itself on Wednesday night, when Rangers play Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Communities League Cup. The natural order would suggest that Inverness should beat the Ibrox side, but McCoist has already led his side to victory over another Clydesdale Bank Premier League side, Motherwell, in the same tournament.
As an autumnal chill descended on Broadwood, the focus now moves to a match that could help define a season.
Scorers. Shiels (17), McCulloch (80)