RANGERS opened their SPL campaign as if they were being pushed along by a tailwind. They subdued the usual stuffy resistance from Inverness and modified their play to cope with an awkward wind. It was impossible not to think that those were the sort of circumstances which might have left them nursing a draw or even a defeat last season. The more optimistic among their supporters could claim that they are three times better this season than last: having only taken a single point from three games against Inverness in 2006-7, they have already tripled that.

Rangers did not have to look like potential league challengers yesterday, just set the tone for the first phase of their season with a victory. The wind meant it would be unfair to judge the quality of their football - it was a day when it was more rewarding to play high balls rather than build moves on the grass - but they showed the resilience and strength to cope and flew back from the Highlands after the match in a state of contentment even if there may be trouble for them when the SPL receive a report of offensive singing by their fans.

The players will be on a plane again to head for Tuesday's Champions League second qualifying round tie against FK Zeta in Monte- negro, where they will defend a 2-0 first leg lead but may have to do so without Kris Boyd who succumbed to an ankle injury which led to him being substituted early in the second half.

The questions posed of Rangers by Caledonian Thistle last season ensured that Walter Smith would be respectful of them. Only Boyd was played in attack and although Lee McCulloch and DaMarcus Beasley would push on from the wings when Rangers broke forward that was from a starting formation of 4-1-4-1, with Brahim Hemdani the anchor behind Ferguson and Kevin Thomson. That shape suited Ferguson, who could make forward runs. He scored twice in a classy display.

Beasley against Ross Tokely was an antelope against a rhino, and the American was trampled so often he looked a little spooked and rushed his chances on those occasions when he did break clear on goal. Ferguson's intelligent and precise passing twice put him through on the goalkeeper but on both occasions Beasley's finishing was unconvincing. Beasley versus Tokely was a duel which ran all day and eventually provoked Smith into complaints which earned him a ticking off from referee Kenny Clark.

It wasn't the sort of day when anyone found it easy to put together a portfolio of impressive play - the wind saw to that - but the weight of Ferguson's was consistently impressive and it was appropriate that he should stamp his authority on the match with a fine opening goal.

Rangers had the wind behind them in the first half and Allan McGregor's long clearance was headed into the centre by McCulloch where Ferguson let it bounce before catching it sweetly from 25 yards. Goalkeeper Michael Fraser leapt to his left but it was hopeless for him; the ball flew into his net off the inside of the post. Boyd's season began miserably with the sort of miss against FK Zeta on Tuesday which will not be forgotten in a hurry. If yesterday was better for him, it wasn't by much. He was booked for going over the top on Ian Black and when another Ferguson pass allowed him to wrestle off a defender and confront Fraser the goalkeeper's leg deflected his low shot high on to the face of the crossbar. Boyd limped towards half-time after being fouled and lasted only four minutes of the second half before being substituted. McCulloch took over as the only striker, with Novo on to preserve the balance in midfield.

Caledonian Thistle can reluctantly claim to be the equals of Chelsea. In the past eight days both of them have been helpless against powerful goals by Novo. Rangers were being subjected to their most trying spell of the game when Novo extinguished any sense of growing threat by collecting a lay-off from McCulloch and hammering a drive which, even against the wind, was unstoppable.

For Inverness there was the consolation of a footnote in the club's history. The addition of a few hundred new seats meant yesterday's crowd of 7711 was the highest home attendance they have ever had. They saw a match which offered misleading evidence of how the team is likely to do this season. A player who could dictate how their season unfolds, former Romanian international striker Marius Niculae, was ineligible yesterday and an appeal will be held on Wednesday against the Home Office's decision to refuse him a work permit. They barely created a chance without him. Carlos Cuellar and David Weir were solid for Rangers and when each of them lapsed once - Cuellar was short with a pass back and Weir was dispossessed by Richie Hart - nothing came of it.

No such mercy was afforded Tokely when he misjudged a header to his goalkeeper in the 90th minute. Ferguson anticipated the mistake and pounced to lift the ball over Fraser into the net.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle substitutes: Cowie for McAllister 63, Hart for McBain 70, McDonald for Rankin 77 Subs not used: Ridgers, Morgan, Duncan, Sutherland Booked: Tokely 85 Rangers substitutes: Novo for Boyd 49 Subs not used: Carroll, Broadfoot, Darcheville, Lennon, Kinniburgh, McMillan Booked: Boyd 11, Hemdani 23 Referee: K. Clark Att: 7711