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Rangers will fool no-one with this smash-and-grab victory

POINTS bagged, but the doubts most definitely remain.

Rangers' Nicky Clark and Falkirk's Will Vaulks

Late goals from Lewis Macleod and sub Nicky Clark got Rangers out of Falkirk unscathed and off the mark in the SPFL Championship, yet no-one should be fooled by the scoreline.

For an hour of this encounter, they were outplayed and outhustled by their opponents. Were it not for two superb saves within the space of a minute from their goalkeeper, Cammy Bell, shortly after the interval, this quite torrid evening would have been a whole lot worse.

The visiting supporters, so jubilant as they filed out of the ground at time-up, will remember precisely why they booed their team off the field at the break. For the third match in a row, Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd were left frustrated and isolated up front with no real service of note while the defence - with Bilel Mohsni beside Marius Zaliukas in the centre and Darren McGregor pushed out to right-back - lacked any cohesion or confidence.

If you cannot be good, though, be lucky. And that is exactly how best to describe the effort from Macleod that got Ally McCoist's team out of jail with 12 minutes remaining.

The youngster, fielded out of position once again on the left of midfield, picked up the ball around 20 yards out, took aim and scuffed his shot into a ruck of bodies. However, one slight deflection off Will Vaulks changed everything.

The home goalkeeper, Jamie MacDonald, was caught off balance as the ball changed direction. His vain attempt to recover was carried out in slow motion, with Macleod's shot, travelling at snail's pace, somehow managing to sneak past his outstretched left hand and nestle in the corner of the net.

It was not just a cruel blow for Peter Houston's side but a fatal one. Six minutes later, Clark, a second-half substitute for the injured Miller, got on the end of a Nicky Law flick-on from a Macleod corner to bundle home Rangers' second goal.

With the Bairns' heads having understandably dipped, it then took a linesman's flag to deny Boyd his first goal since his return to Ibrox.

Rangers finished strongly but they never looked comfortable and seem to be struggling to adjust to the more intense competition provided by a league consisting of full-time, fitter teams. They were living on their wits, suffering scare after scare, right from the off. The most worrying thing for their large travelling support was that most of the trouble they landed in was of their own making.

The tone was set after a couple of minutes when McGregor was dispossessed by Blair Alston out on the left. The Falkirk midfielder slung an inviting ball into the area and visiting keeper Bell took a kick to the head in diving at the feet of Tom Taiwo to avert the danger.

Alston put an effort just wide when connecting with a cross from Alex Cooper and Mohsni then had to lump the ball out of the park after McGregor aimed a passback far too close to Rory Loy for comfort inside his own area.

When the nerves are jangling and you need to keep things simple and defend sensibly, Mohsni is probably not the first man you would call. The French-Tunisian defender, making his first competitive appearance of the campaign following his latest suspension, almost sold the jerseys midway through the opening half.

Faced with the relatively straightforward task of dealing with a hopeful punt up the park, he was ridiculously short when attempting to find Bell with a backwards header. Cooper nipped in to put himself clean through on the keeper but he dallied at the decisive moment and allowed Mohsni to deny him with a desperate, sliding tackle.

Alston came close when bending a free-kick just wide of Bell's left-hand post after being fouled by the Rangers centre-back 25 yards out and Conor McGrandles passed up a golden opportunity in stoppage time when connecting with a Taiwo free-kick at the back post. He did the right thing in heading his effort down into the turf but lacked true conviction in his actions. Bell was able to hold the bouncing ball at the second attempt.

You may ask what Rangers were doing in response to all these Falkirk attacks. The answer is: not a lot.Boyd saw a header from a Macleod corner deflected over the crossbar on 14 minutes with David Templeton putting a low shot wide from the resultant flag-kick a matter of moments later, but that was pretty much it for the Glasgow side.

MacDonald went through the first 45 minutes without having a save to make. How Bell must have envied him. With 52 minutes on the clock, the Rangers No 1 produced two fantastic saves within a minute to keep his team on level terms.

First up, with Mohsni having fouled McGrandles directly in front of goal, he threw himself full-length at a free-kick from Cooper and tipped the ball over the bar.

McGrandles then made solid contact with a header from Taiwo's corner kick but Bell proved an impregnable last line of defence again with an excellent reflex stop that led to a bout of bagatelle in the the Rangers penalty box before the danger was cleared.

The visitors were being bullied by that stage. They simply weren't in the game. Yet McCulloch, their captain, should have put them in front with 26 minutes remaining but he blazed the ball over the bar after a knock-down from Mohsni.

That opportunity did spark a Rangers revival. Clark saw a header from a clever Boyd chip saved before Macleod scored after making the most of his link-up with Lady Luck.

She won't hang around for a whole season, though. Rangers will need to play better than this.

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