better meddle...

wi' the de'il than the bairns o' fa'kirk

Match Report

Sunday, 18th January, 2009

by Tom English

Boyd hits the spot to ease tension

ANGRY protests and thunder galore. Repeated cries of Murray Out and Smith Must Go. Untold aggro from the massed ranks of Rangers fans who let their chairman know how they feel with their unmissable fury. Actually, no. There was none of that. For a support that was supposed to be galvanising itself into some kind of gesture towards the boss this was the dampest of damp squibs. A couple of minutes before kick-off a few guys (the Rangers Supporters Trust in all their glory) raised a 'We Deserve Better' banner down the Broomloan Road end and took it down again in about 15 seconds. Honestly, after all the fuss of midweek you expected a bit more from the disaffected yesterday.

Not that it wasn't tense. For a good while it was. Until two goals from Kris Boyd (one a penalty) put Rangers into the lead following Steve Lovell's opener Ibrox was a pretty anxious place. Then Steven Davis weighed in with a cheeky third right on full-time and everybody relaxed, except John Hughes who complained about various refereeing decisions by Willie Collum, most particularly the one that gave Boyd the penalty in the first place.

The protests never materialised but from the moment Lovell opened the scoring there was an eerie vibe around the stadium. Every time the Rangers attacks petered out the crowd let off a collective cry and then fell silent again. You didn't need to know the back story of Rangers' travails to realise that this is a troubled club right now.

Lovell darkened the mood as early as the 12th minute, Neil McCann playing him in behind the Rangers defence with a precise pass and though Allan McGregor managed to get his outstretched boot to Lovell's clipped left-foot shot he couldn't prevent it from bobbling into the goal behind him. Oh dear. Walter Smith's nightmare come true. Murray's worst fears realised before the game had even settled down into any kind of discernible pattern.

It did just that directly after the goal and it was hardly a surprise to see Falkirk put up the barricades. When they didn't have 10 men behind the ball, they had 11. Not pretty but effective for a spell and wholly understandable. Boyd dug his team out of a hole yet again with his 21st and 22nd goals of the season. And he's still for sale. Not just him, though. Anybody and everybody is up for grabs. Smith restated the club's position afterwards. Somebody of value has to go.

"Look, we need to sell player," he said. "We can't dictate who it is. We have to sell a player and we have no choice over which player another club comes in for. Everybody's talking about Kris Boyd but there are plenty of other players who before the transfer deadline may attract a bid."

So far? Nothing. Not a sniff for anybody but Boyd, so he remains the favourite to go, should anybody want him, while being the one man they can't really afford to lose. Sod's law writ large.

Falkirk played with aggression and were well organised but they sat back too much after their goal and invited Rangers forward. Initially, Rangers toiled, though. We had terrible attempts in reasonable positions from Kenny Miller and Davis, we then had wasteful finishing from Miller, whose header was tipped over by the excellent Robert Olejnik in the Falkirk goal. Petulance followed. Boyd went down screaming for a penalty after he competed for a ball with Olejnik. No award was given, a decision that saw Miller zipping in to voice his objection, a moment of hot-headedness that earned him a yellow card. And after that? More waste, again from Miller whose shot from the right-hand side of the penalty area had to, absolutely had to, test the goalkeeper instead of missing the target altogether, which is precisely what happened.

Six minutes wreaked terrible havoc on Falkirk's day. In the final minute of the first half Boyd won his contentious penalty, hitting the deck in the box after the softest nudge in the back from Patrick Cregg. The striker hurled himself to the floor a little too keenly, got back up and buried his effort past Olejnik. So that was Rangers level but within five minutes of the new half beginning they were ahead, in one sense at least. Falkirk were reduced to 10 men.

Again, it was Cregg at the centre of it, the Falkirk man diving into a tackle on Pedro Mendes under the gaze of the referee. Cregg caught Mendes, no question, and probably deserved to go.

In a relative blink of an eye Falkirk now looked in all sorts of trouble. Particularly since 17-year-old John Fleck was beginning to motor down the left side of the pitch, the patch of grass that has caused Smith so much bother for so long. Nobody can do a job for him there but Fleck shows real promise and his good work should have brought a goal just after an hour's play. He scampered down his wing and swung in an inviting cross to the back post where Boyd was waiting. The striker should have put it away without thinking but he nutted down and up and into Olejnik's grateful hands.

Twists and turns to come, though. In the 77th minute, Papac departed for stepping into Mark Stewart's path, a cynical offence but hardly a heinous one. At that point you wondered where this game was heading. The immediate answer was out to the right wing to the substitute Nacho Novo, from where Rangers began the move that secured the points.

Novo's enthusiasm is a thing of wonder. No matter how often he is omitted from the team he appears off the bench with masses of oomph. He made the second and all-important goal, came darting in from wide and hit a shot that Olejnik could only parry into Boyd's path. Falkirk were beaten then and Davis's lovely cameo at the end merely put the cherry on top. He nutmegged Kevin McBride and cut in from the left before sliding the ball past Olejnik to send the faithful home with something to smile about at long last. A brief respite before the Boyd saga trundles on in the days ahead.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Robert Olejnik was excellent for Falkirk but you had to hand it to John Fleck who showed pace and accuracy down his left wing. He looked like he had the kind of devil that Rangers have been sorely lacking.

QUICK FACT: Sasa Papac's red card was the season's third for Rangers, the last one coming at home in the 2-1 win over Kilmarnock in September. The guilty man? Sasa Papac.

TALKING POINT: Lots of them but the penalty decision stood out. John Hughes was infuriated at the award, claiming that Kris Boyd conned the referee and, to be fair, the Falkirk manager had a point.