RANGERS used to celebrate some New Year victories for days, sometimes even weeks.
Annan Athletic are no substitute for an Old Firm game, though. This win began to slip from Rangers' memory by the time their team bus was hitting the motorway on the way back to Glasgow.
Life in the third division has settled into a sequence of quietly satisfying little successes for Rangers and 2013 began with another one, but there was nothing pretty nor noteworthy about it as they marched on.
In cold, dreich Annan they were eventually too strong for a spirited home team who had held them to 1-1 at half-time. Only when Rangers scored for a third time in the 83rd minute could they be entirely sure of their 11th consecutive league victory, but they were worth it overall.
Two of their three goals carried some luck – David Templeton scored with a cross and then again with a deflected shot – but only poor finishing prevented them adding others. This was another of those days when they were neither convincing nor stylish but they now possess enough composure to eventually subdue and overcome those third division teams who come at them driven by raw adrenaline.
Galabank contained 2441 hardy souls. Maybe the locals weren't quite as excited as they had been when Rangers first visited in September – which finished in a goalless draw – but it still felt like a big deal in the wee town and their side performed admirably. The game – a scrappy, ugly battle throughout – featured the novelty of both teams scoring with what was intended to be a cross: Templeton first, then Ally Love for Annan.
It was a young Rangers team without Lee McCulloch, Emilson Cribari or Dean Shiels. Barrie McKay was on the bench and Lewis Macleod didn't make it at all, meaning starts for Darren Cole and Robbie Crawford and a central defence of Ross Perry and Chris Hegarty. This was only the second Rangers start of Cole's senior career: the other one was in the Champions League against Bursaspor in December 2010. The shape was 4-1-4-1, with Kyle Hutton in front of the defence and Fran Sandaza leading the attack.
When Templeton was last at Annan, he suffered the ankle injury which bit two-and-a-half months out of his season. The place took on a happier feel for him when he put Rangers ahead after 26 minutes of scruffy, drab play. No matter that he had actually tried to deliver a cross from the left moments after Alex Mitchell had saved from Sandaza; the ball flew off his boot and up and over the goalkeeper and inside his far post.
They would have had another minutes later if Templeton's cross had not somehow been headed on to the crossbar by Sandaza with the goal yawning in front of him. Templeton, Andy Little and Lee Wallace – Rangers' captain for the day and their most impressive player – also struck unconvincing efforts but Sandaza's attempt was the poorest by a considerable distance. At least when Ian Black struck a shot early in the second half it forced Mitchell into a save, although Black may earlier have been shown a red card rather than a yellow for an ugly tackle on Chris Jardine – a real driving force in Annan's midfield.
They were up for this, eager and committed in Rangers' faces. Love stole in behind the Rangers defence for an early half-chance and later Michael Daly rifled a low shot which took a deflection into the side net. Even when Rangers began to exert more pressure after their opener they did not capitulate to them and an equaliser arrived within minutes.
Love must have admired Templeton's freakish goal, because he copied it. Love harassed Cole into giving the ball away and burrowed almost to the bye-line before scooping the ball over. Neil Alexander was caught out and the ball sailed over him into his goal. Cole's day took a far more significant downturn when he twisted an ankle early in the second half, resulting him being stretchered off. It was a sad sight given that he already has had grave ankle problems in his career.
Eventually Rangers pulled away. Templeton's cross wasn't properly cleared and Crawford took possession to fire a low shot across Mitchell into the net.
Annan's attempts to claw their way back were admirable, but at last Rangers looked comfortable and added a third when Templeton's shot took a big deflection off centre-half Harry Monaghan to beat his own goalkeeper.