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Ayr United 0 Rangers 2: Typically gritty away victory as hosts find their best efforts saved by a Bell

Ayr United took some regrets away from this encounter, but the greatest source of exasperation was that they encountered Cammy Bell in resolute form.

Ally McCoist tries to encourage his players during Rangers' 2-0 victory away to Ayr United on Saturday. Picture: SNS
Ally McCoist tries to encourage his players during Rangers' 2-0 victory away to Ayr United on Saturday. Picture: SNS

Rangers won comfortably in the end, and some recurring qualities were evident in the way the team were grimly determined and dogged, unflinching in their commitment to grinding out a victory, but there was a significant contribution from the goalkeeper.

On three occasions during the first half, when the game was still finely balanced at 0-0, Bell delivered telling saves. It is now nine away fixtures, stretching back to October, since Rangers conceded a goal, with only six lost at Ibrox during that time.

There was a makeshift central defensive partnership in front of Bell, with Seb Faure moved across from right-back and Emilson Cribari recalled for his first start since last August, but they generally coped with the physical aggression of Kevin Kyle. Emilson was an unruffled presence, which was necessary alongside the occasional rashness of Faure, but even when the defence was breached, Bell was flawless.

He made an early stop from Kyle, down at his near post, saved well from Craig Malcolm, and then expertly from the same player's fierce effort.

An alert block from Michael Donald was also important, since it prompted a Rangers counter attack, one that ended with Fraser Aird's shot hitting the crossbar and Nicky Law only managing to lash the rebound over the bar from 10 yards.

Rangers were scrappy at times in the opening period, but Bell provided an adept counter-point. In the same way that Lee Wallace has maintained his standards in the lower leagues, Bell has continued to impress, although he comes under less intense pressure in games that Rangers tend to dominate.

He has adopted to the change in circumstances from Kilmarnock, and Ally McCoist noted afterwards that there would have been few goalkeepers in Scotland last Saturday who would have produced a more impressive individual display.

"We see it every day in training, he's a top-class goalkeeper and we're thankful he was sharp," said Richard Foster, the Rangers full-back. "I've worked with [Allan] McGregor, who's a top goalie, and Cammy's a great goalie, too.

"There are a lot of similarities between them, the reflexes, he's a great shot stopper. You have to put the ball right in the corner to beat him. This season, he's come up with big saves at big times for us.

"If he keeps producing that form then I'm sure the Scotland manager will look at him. There's maybe a bit of bias on my part, but he's a top goalkeeper. Lee [Wallace] is an inspiration to us all that while we're not playing in the top division, if we're still doing well enough then the Scotland manager will take a look."

There was little other expertise on show, beyond the spirit and hard-edged character of a Rangers side that has learned how to win games under difficult circumstances. Ayr were solid, committed, organised and industrious, which required the visitors to be similarly gritty.

If there was an element of uncertainty in the final third during the first half, that was rectified at the interval, with Aird drilling a cross into the penalty area just 29 seconds into the second half that Law diverted into the net.

The clinching goal came when Wallace sent a deep cross into the penalty area that Daly converted with a firm header.

These are small incidents on the bigger journey back towards the top-flight, but that context is always present. McCoist clarified afterwards that his comments last week were about the club having lost £30m worth of talent two years ago, not that it would take that sum of money to make Rangers title contenders again. Some of the current squad, like Foster, played in Champions League nights at Ibrox, but the reality for now is completing their immediate task.

"These games are tough, but we're developing a strong character, a will to fight and scrap for each other which is important in any dressing room," he said. "Those [Champions League ties] were the best games I've played in, but there are times coming to places like this, Brechin and Forfar develops more character. Sometimes it's not pretty, but we win."

For Rangers this was a job accomplished, whereas for Ayr United it was a reminder that there can still be positives to take from a defeat. "The manager wanted us to have a go and we did that," said Malcolm.

"The last few games we've shown them a bit too much respect. It's a missed opportunity, running into a goalkeeper who played like that. The two saves he made from myself and Mikey were outstanding."

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