ANALYSIS Bumper crowd watches Rangers scrape victory on a very different kind of occasion at National Stadium
THIS game never lost its sense of occasion. A middle-aged Queen's Park supporter, sitting in the main stand, kept up a running commentary throughout, mostly focusing on the excellent work of some of the home players. Occasionally, his elderly father nudged him in the ribs if he became too heated – usually when Willie Collum, the referee, was making one of several inconsistent decisions – and his female companion eventually chided him for being "obstreperous". After the final whistle, the man stood up and said sadly that he had been waiting all his life to see Queen's Park take something from a game against Rangers.
There was a significance to the encounter, not least because it could be billed as the oldest derby in world football, but also because Rangers brought in the region of 28,000 supporters to Hampden. Queen's Park sold around four times their normal allocation of tickets, but it was the away support that was overwhelming. Even in the circumstances – the Saturday between Christmas and Hogmanay, at the end of a year in which the commitment and loyalty of Rangers fans was the prime reason the club survived its financial turmoil – the turnout was still remarkable.
There was a brief outburst of the banned song, The Billy Boys, following Fraser Aird's late winning goal, but that is the kind of self-harming behaviour that the fans have eradicated in recent years.
On the whole, their support has been unflagging, and contributed to the sense of a club rebuilding swiftly and with purpose as it attempts to climb back to the top flight. Even so, the team's perfor-mance did not match the occasion, or even the ability of the home players to raise their games so effectively.
Queen's Park were com-mitted and played with a clear understanding of the need to keep the ball, to not concede ground or possession to Rangers because they would flag if they had to chase the game.
Even when they were reduced to 10 men, after the centre-back James Brough received a second yellow card for body-checking David Templeton in the second half, the home side remained composed.
Rangers created more chances – without ever being dominant – but Queen's ought to have scored from one counter-attack, when Lawrence Shankland miscued his shot, and almost scored when the same player's free-kick curled just wide.
"I was confident but I scuffed it," Shankland said of his miss.
"Our work rate was sublime, we worked as a team and Rangers couldn't break us down. I thought we were brilliant but they managed to sneak a goal at the end, from a set piece, because of our tiredness."
Rangers prevailed because they refused to concede that the win was beyond them, even into time added on. They were also able to bring on a player of such energy and intent that it was the substitute Aird who raced back to chase down Shankland before the Queen's Park player failed to convert his chance, then moments later shot beyond Neil Parry, the Queen's goalkeeper, who had performed impressively throughout, to secure the victory.
Rangers have now won 10 consecutive league games as well as 10 consecutive games in all competitions, and while other displays have been better, more authoritative, and more likely to persuade that the core of this team can be built on to establish a more accomplished side, manager Ally McCoist could still dwell upon the spirit of his team. Finding a way to win, whatever the circumstances, is an invaluable quality, though not one he will wish his team to carry on requiring.
"The players are getting to know each other, so I don't see why not," said midfielder Robbie Crawford when asked if the team can go unbeaten for the rest of the season. "We're all confident, all playing well, we'll just see where this run takes us. We're not going to switch off now, and we want to get [the title] won as soon as possible. Queen's Park were tough, but we were never going to give up."