The visitors eventually dominated proceedings, and ruthlessness came easily when there was an opportunity to be decisive. Airdrieonians could only take refuge in the understanding that the outcome might have been more chastening. "That was a sore one," admitted Jimmy Boyle, the Airdrie manager.
He had admonished his players, and the frustration was heightened because the game had initially been keenly contested. There was a flurry of goals in the second half, and that made the scoreline emphatic. Ally McCoist had upbraided his players last weekend for not making their dominance of Stranraer count for more, and that urgency ultimately shaped Rangers' performance."It was terrific in the second half," said McCoist. "We knew that Airdrie would come out and give everything. There was a great reaction in the second half, and the quality of our finishing was really pleasing."
There was little restraint. Play was contained to a breakneck speed, as though composure was the only quality that could not be relied upon. The home side might have calculated that a frantic start would unsettle Rangers, and there were times when the visiting defenders were caught on their heels. Airdrie's forwards were just as unnerved, though, and no advantage could be taken. It was typical, for instance, that Nathan Blockley rushed a volley, sending it wide after a period of pressure. It was unsustainable for one side alone to maintain the intensity, and play surged from end to end. Even in the hectic circumstances, individuals could still stand out.
A bout of notoriety only enhances Ian Black's popularity. The Airdrie fans wanted to berate him for the betting allegations that surfaced last week, but there was only hearty backing from the Rangers support. It was helpful, of course, that the player maintained his recent impressive form, and he wasted few touches during the first half. "He's one of those players who attracts attention," said McCoist. "He started the season well and I wasn't surprised the fans wanted to support one of their own."
Sustained pressure wasn't possible, but Rangers were better equipped to make their attacking forays incisive. There was simplicity to the opening goal, since Lewis MacLeod received the ball inside the penalty area from a straightforward pass by Robbie Crawford. The midfielder was astute enough to gather his senses before steering a shot beyond Stewart's reach and inside the far post.
The game still suffered from harum sacrum moments, and the Rangers defenders were never wholly comfortable with the presence of the tall, awkward Lewis Coult. For all that it was generally an open contest, Rangers had enough wherewithal to never be unduly anxious.
If anything, it was only over- eagerness that hampered them. Little appeared intent on shooting at every opportunity, and he turned one volley wide from a good position. He might feel the need to make an impact now, while Rangers cannot use all of the players who have agreed to sign as free agents on September 1, when the club's registration embargo ends, and the persistence was eventually rewarded. When the ball was hoisted into the penalty area, Daly showed awareness to head it down to Little's feet. The striker spun round and clipped a shot high into Stewart's net.
Having secured control, Rangers became slack. The home side only sporadically broke through, however, and Jim Lister stabbed wide from their best opening. "We were great for the opening 15 minutes," said Boyle, "but we never made our chances count. I'm fuming with the second-half performance. The way Rangers were clinical was a real lesson for us."
The visitors swept forward after the interval. It began almost immediately, when Sebastian Faure lifted a pass over the Airdrie defence into Lee Wallace's path. His cross reached Crawford, and the midfielder drove his effort into the net. It was a swift, decisive move and it ought to have alarmed the home side.
Rangers had no intention of easing off, and Airdrie eventually suffered a collapse. The home defence was sluggish to react when Crawford turned an awkward ball high back across goal, and Daly headed in from close range. That effort was scrappy, but his second goal three minutes later was the result of poise and power, when he drove the ball beyond Stewart from 16 yards out.
The acclaim for Daly was intensified since it was his first goals for the club. They were merited, because his application and guile had provided a platform for Rangers to play off. His presence has raised the performance levels of team-mates, too, and Little was sprightly throughout. It was his cross that Nicky Law turned beyond Stewart in between Daly's two goals, in a four-minute spell that devastated the home side.
It was also a relief for Rangers after another week dominated by events in the boardroom. "I feel we're making improvements in our play," said McCoist. "Hopefully off the park we can have a bit of stability, too."