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Rangers 4 Queen of the South 2: Tough near the top

RANGERS continue to sustain damaging losses on the balance sheet but at least yesterday they were capable of maintaining their margins in the Championship league table.

Nicky Clark, left, leads the celebrations against his old club after Marius Zaliukas gets Rangers off the markPhotograph: SNS
Nicky Clark, left, leads the celebrations against his old club after Marius Zaliukas gets Rangers off the markPhotograph: SNS

They were twice in arrears to a stout but under-strength Queen of the South, but this hard-earned win keeps them top of the chasing pack behind early leaders Hearts, and stretches their advantage over Hibernian to six points.

The suspicion was that further supporter protests in the wake of Friday's statement to the stock exchange might overshadow events on the park but so absorbing was this contest in front of a 30,000-plus crowd that these became low-key affairs, even compared to the "sack the board" chants witnessed at Celtic Park last Tuesday night.

It wasn't until the first goal of Kenny Miller's third spell at the club, timed at the 86th minute, that the home side could be certain of taking all three points, and on current form you wouldn't rule out these two meeting again in the play-offs.

As poor as his side were at times in the first half, Ally McCoist paid tribute to his players for ignoring talk of supporter unrest to get the job done. He will continue to do his part by ignoring phone calls from clubs wanting to buy any of his players before tomorrow's transfer deadline.

"We can't allow it to affect us," McCoist said. "It can't become an issue because if we lose track or focus on the job we have to do, then the game's a bogey."

Both sets of fans arrived with trepidation. For Rangers once more the backdrop was of financial gloom, amid growing uncertainty over the plan to raise an extra £4 million in working capital, of which £1.5m is likely to be immediately swallowed up by outstanding loans. Even if fully subscribed, the share offer will be insufficient to take Rangers to the end of the season, rekindling the threat of administration and leaving the club's more saleable assets sweating on their future. For the visitors, the equation was different but no less worrisome. Queen of the South, famously the only Scottish football club mentioned in the Bible, faced an injury crisis of biblical proportions. Seven players were unavailable, including pretty much their entire midfield. Assistant manager James Fowler hardly helped matters by getting sent off last week.

But manager Jim McIntyre is a resourceful type, and somehow this shortcoming became a strength, the speed and conviction of his team's four-man break-outs giving the home defence major problems.

The ground was still settling after a red-card display and some 18th-minute chants of "sack the board" when the visitors carved Rangers open for the first time. Mark Durnan's inspired pass released the tricky Danny Carmichael, who gave the pacy Gavin Reilly an opening and he kept his nerve to beat Steve Simonsen in style.

Rangers were stung into life. Nicky Clark, up front against his former team, fired a left-foot effort narrowly wide, before his namesake Zander, the Queens goalkeeper, tipped away a half-volley from strike partner Kris Boyd. There was some low-level controversy in the lead-up to the equaliser, Clark beating out Darren McGregor's close-range effort but seeing Marius Zaliukas' looping header drop under his bar, while Bilel Mohsni acted as an irritant.

"We felt it was a free-kick against Mohsni, when he was piling in," McIntyre said. "But some you get, some you don't. The disappointing thing for us is the two goals we lost from set plays."

But Queens weren't done just yet. A quick throw down the right beat Zaliukas and soon the lively Reilly fed in Iain Russell, who made his low finish look easy.

Rangers were booed off at half-time and two of their number didn't reappear. Ian Black replaced Zaliukas, and David Templeton came on to produce a game-winning turn on the right flank, replacing the ineffectual Arnold Peralta. He went off before the end with an ankle problem, but with his first touch he picked up the ball, and with marker Kevin Holt slipping, used his second touch to lash the ball high into the top corner.

Mohsni was an unlikely source of redemption. He threw his head at Nicky Law's corner, the ball taking a deflection as it gave Rangers the lead for the first time. Derek Lyle had left the fray with a nasty-looking head injury by the time Boyd's head-flick let Miller clip in.

"When we keep gifting goals the way we do and defending like that, it's not good enough," said Boyd. "We need to sort it out and sort it out quick."

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