It was expected to be their most challenging league game of the season and the qualities they showed in overcoming Dunfermline had all been missing in their last game, when they surrendered their 100% league record at home to Stranraer. This was a return to the kind of authority that ought to ensure they take another step towards the top flight this season.
They are now 14 points clear of Dunfermline but the statistics seemed immaterial. The 1-1 draw on Boxing Day, with the equaliser conceded in injury time, had been a galling moment and this game was a challenge to Rangers' competitive instincts. When Robbie Crawford struck the fourth goal last night, it seemed to be with the kind of relish that spoke of frustrations and regret being cast aside.
"We got what we deserved," said Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager, "and it could have been more. I can't say [the title is already secured], I wouldn't be disrespectful to our opponents, but that was a big three points for us. We were coming to their patch and they're a good team."
McCoist also denied rumours that Dean Shiels has been told that he should find another club when the transfer window opens tomorrow. "He's still in our plans," the manager said, although the player was an unused substitute at East End Park.
Both sides set out to be relentless, as if control had to be gained as a matter of urgency. That created an eventful match because opportunities arose from the competitive tension. The home side might have thought that Rangers dropping their first points of the league campaign might have left a psychological scar. They were certainly quick to apply some pressure and Sebastien Faure had to race back anxiously when Andy Geggan sent Jordan Moore running through on goal.
It was an early warning for Rangers that their hosts would be demanding opponents. The visitors were capable of grasping the initiative, too, though and moments later Steven Smith ought to have scored when Jon Daly's header presented him with a clear shot on goal from inside the penalty area but he steered his effort wide.
There was an aggressive edge to both teams and that made for an occasionally unforgiving encounter. During one passage of play in the first half, Bilel Mohsni tangled with an opponent before pushing out, then Daly was knocked over inside the penalty area. Neither challenge was punished by Craig Charlestown, but the referee was never allowed a moment's respite during the game.
Others were the same, although patience was the quality Fraser Aird had to rely upon. He eventually made his impact when Nicky Law passed the ball infield to him, prompting Aird to dart past the challenges of two Dunfermline players before hitting a low shot past Ryan Scully from 20 yards out.
He took the goal well, and it was the reward for some individual aplomb, but it was the home side who had been performing more adeptly as a team. Moore should have been more accurate with his effort when played though by the excellent Josh Falkingham but instead shot tamely at Bell, then Stephen Husband's header from Alex Whittle's corner was tipped over by the Rangers goalkeeper.
Rangers could not rest on their advantage and one of Lee Wallace's forays upfield ended with the defender cutting the ball back for Daly, the striker's effort bouncing clear off Scully's outstretched leg. Dunfermline were fortunate again just before the interval, when Lewis Martin hacked Aird's effort off the line.
The pattern of the game was firmly established. Moments after the interval, the hard-edged nature returned when Mohsni was booked for appearing to land an elbow on Moore. The visitors also remained more clinical, since Aird's corner was headed on target by Daly and turned over the line by Clark. The ball was probably going in anyway but the striker claimed the goal and, after his celebrations, he made sure that Charlestown knew about him applying the final touch. That hunger to claim every goal will have been familiar to his manager.
Having secured their advantage, Rangers sought to contain their opponents by taking off Clark, bringing on the full-back Richard Foster and moving Faure into the midfield holding role. A late goal for Stranraer had cost them their 100% league record after all but the change did not wholly restrict the visitors. There was still time for Lewis Macleod to intercept Young's pass to Ryan Williamson, then surge upfield before slipping a pass through to Law, who then stabbed a shot beyond the helpless Scully.
"We contributed to our own downfall, but it was a harsh scoreline," said Jim Jefferies, the Dunfermline manager. "We just didn't have any experienced players but the young players will learn from it. We won't get too down."