Stranraer were the guests at Rangers title party and trophy presentation ceremony on Saturday as the Sky TV cameras also turned out to ensure that the Blues had their long overdue television debut for the season.
Rangers 3 Stranraer 0
More importantly there was still a football match to be contested although a difficult proposition awaited. Despite the celebrations planned, Ibrox was an emotionally charged arena as the home fans mourned the passing of one of their own and Scottish football’s greats in Sandy Jardine and the minute’s silence was impeccably observed while the minute’s applause in the 2nd minute, to commemorate Sandy’s shirt number was a fitting tribute to a fine footballer of days gone by.
The early stages saw Martin Grehan fire speculatively high and wide from long range before the home side responded and Steven Smith’s cross was headed straight at David Mitchell by Jon Daly. When Arnold Peralta sent Dean Shiels through on gone it looked ominous but Mitchell made a fine save and then distracted the Gers striker sufficiently to ensure he couldn’t capitalise on the rebound which he knocked wide. Stranraer gained a free kick which was delivered into the box by Mark Docherty. It found Jamie Longworth who tried to turn but was beaten by Ian Black and a good position came to nothing. Another free kick followed soon after but although Andy Stirling did hit the target his effort was fairly tame and Cammy Bell had no trouble in collecting the ball. On 20 minutes a near-post corner from Fraser Aird was headed clear to Nicky Law but he couldn’t get enough bend on the ball to give Mitchell any real concern. Daly certainly did cause concern minutes later when his shot deflected off David MacGregor and looped up over the goalkeeper but fortunately for the visitors it bounced on the top of the crossbar and away to safety. Stranraer were still relatively comfortable in containing the Champions as the half hour mark came and went although they had created little of their own. The burning question at this juncture for the Stair Park side was whether or not they could hold out until half time. Mitchell made tidy work of gathering a Peralta cross as the Blues once again thwarted their opponents but the deadlock would eventually be broken but not before Docherty had curled a free kick too close to Bell that he clutched under little pressure. He cleared up field as the game moved into the 37th minute, the very time that Rangers had broken the deadlock in the earlier Ibrox clash this season and the same minute proved decisive once again. Smith took possession on the left and found Fraser Aird just inside him. The Murray Park teenager neatly cut inside Scott Robertson and fired an unstoppable drive past Mitchell and into the bottom corner of the net. Rangers were now dominating proceedings and a great challenge by MacGregor denied Shiels clear progress at goal while Docherty blocked a dangerous Smith as the visitors fought valiantly to stay in touch. Despite being under the cosh for long periods, Stranraer almost snatched an equaliser on the stroke of the interval. Bilel Mohsni gave away a corner under pressure from Grehan and Stirling delivered the cross. The ball was flicked on by Sean Winter at the front post into the path of Frank McKeown who was just stretching too much to control the ball and it flew over the bar but was the Blues best chance so far.
Grant Gallagher created the first opportunity of the second period with a pass that found Stirling in a little space but he couldn’t hook his foot round the ball enough and his shot went well wide of the target. Aird was buzzing around with confidence and had another crack at goal, this time for a bit further out but Mitchell was well placed to gather it before Mohsni picked up a cross from Black and struck a sweet half volley that also flew straight at the Stranraer goalkeeper. There was nothing Mitchell could do though as the home side doubled their lead on the hour. Aird turned architect this time and a darting run across field opened up the space for Arnold Peralta on the right. A perfectly weighted pass allowed the Honduran international to take a touch before calmly beating Mitchell with a composed finish to score his first goal for the club. The next attack saw Shiels effort cannon back off McKeown and then Aird shot narrowly wide as the Blues battled to stay in the game but their respite was only to be shortlived. With 65 minutes on the clock Rangers ensured that they would take the points with a third strike. A magnificent flowing move that started when Aird found Smith overlapping down the ended when his cross was headed goalwards by Dean Shiels at full stretch. Although Mitchell brilliantly stopped the first effort, the ball fell at the feet of the prone striker who simply swept the ball into the unguarded net. By this time, both sides had begun to make some changes and this certainly disrupted the pattern of the play which probably helped Stranraer as it resulted in little further goalmouth activity as Rangers became content with their afternoon’s work. McKeown went close for Stranraer with a well-struck low shot from 30 yards and Kyle Hutton also went close at the other end but with Rangers in command of the game, the clock ticked away without any further incident of note. Rangers serenely move on to East End Park with the incentive of getting a result against Dunfermline Athletic to complete the season unbeaten while Stranraer retreated to the dressing to await the other results with interest. Amazingly, the bizarre sequence of results from elsewhere continued in the Blues favour with both nearest challengers Ayr United and Stenhousemuir falling to surprise defeats. With Ayr still within reach but the Warriors now 3 points and 9 goals worse off going into the final round of fixtures, a single point against Forfar Athletic at Stair Park this weekend will ensure a play-off place although only an unlikely set of results can deny Stranraer the reward their efforts over the season so richly deserve.
Rangers: Cammy Bell, Richard Foster, Bilel Mohsni (Emilson Cribari 77), Fraser Aird, Steven Smith, Lee McCulloch, Arnold Peralta, Ian Black (Kyle Hutton 70), Jon Daly (Nicky Clark 70), Dean Shiels, Nicky Law. Subs not Used: Sebastien Faure, Robbie Crawford, Calum Gallagher, Steve Simonsen.
Goals: Aird 37, Peralta 60, Shiels 65
Stranraer: David Mitchell, Scott Robertson (Stephen Stirling 70), Mark Docherty (Lloyd Kinnaird 85), David MacGregor, Frank McKeown, Grant Gallagher, Sean Winter, Ryan Borris, Martin Grehan (David McKenna 64), Jamie Longworth, Andy Stirling. Subs Not Used: Adam Forde, Scott Rumsby, Chris Fahey
Booked: Gallagher, Borris
Attendance: 46093 Referee: S Finnie