Lee McCulloch celebrates opening the scoring at Ibrox on Saturday. Picture: SNS
RANGERS are top of the third division, at least on goal difference. Not many, however, could have expected it would have taken them so long to get there or that the ascent would have been such a struggle.
Given the standard of opposition in the bottom tier of the Scottish Football League – nine well-drilled but limited part-time teams – they might stay top for the rest of the season and eventually win the championship at a canter. For now, though, they are making heavy weather of what should be a fairly straightforward task.
The only figure at Ibrox these days doing anything that could be described as attention-catching is the chief executive Charles Green, a man who issues more statements than a bank. On the field it is all rather more low key.
Yes, Rangers are winning, at home, but there was little style or panache in the way that they finally took care of Queen's Park. The most notable piece of skill, in fact, came from the visitors when Andy Robertson adroitly pirouetted away from two Rangers players and worked a neat one-two, only for his composure to desert him with the goal gaping. Rangers effectively slogged their way to three points. Two second-half goals from Lee McCulloch settled the match, the striker later describing it as "a convincing win". It was anything but. It took until injury time for McCulloch to snare his second to safeguard the result. Before then there was the sight of Rangers having all 11 players back in their penalty box to defend a Queen's Park corner.
It would be stretching it to say the team from Hampden had Rangers on the ropes – the visitors had no more than a handful of scoring chances – but there was palpable unease around Ibrox until McCulloch tapped in his second.
A remarkable turn-out of just short of 50,000 – trumpeted but not verified as a world record for a fourth tier match – must feel their loyalty to the home side deserves more than to see relatively well-paid players continue to struggle in such a manner.
Ally McCoist had used some strong language on Friday to describe the clear-the-air talks that took place after the defeat by Stirling Albion in Rangers' previous game. The manager spoke of "eyeballing" his players to get his message across, and of them needing, to use the modern parlance, to man up and show they are willing to fight for the team. McCulloch, Ian Black and Kyle Hutton seemed to share some further frank views between them as they walked off the field at half-time.
Players arguing among themselves can be interpreted as a sign of disharmony in the ranks or of players showing commitment to the cause.
Lee Wallace, one of Rangers' better performers on a day when too many struggled for consistency, felt this was definitely a case of the latter. "A wee argument or a wee tussle here or there is good for you and we got a reaction in the second half," said the full-back. "These things can have a good effect if they are channelled in the right way.
"It was just a couple of differences of opinion. We let it calm down and it was fine. I think there was an interview with Robbie Keane earlier in the week when he said it happens every day in football and he is quite right. It was rectified there and then and we went out to get three points and are top of the league."
Next for Rangers is a trip to Clyde on Sunday and a chance to finally get an away win in the league at the fifth attempt. "It hasn't been so much of a grind at home, but away from home it has taken that bit longer than we would have liked," Wallace added. "I don't really know the reason for that but the teams we are playing are lifting their games massively. But that goes with the territory. We know that's the scenario and we have to be ready for it every week."
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