RANGERS consolidated their place at the top of Scottish League One as they steamrolled Airdrieonians to continue their 100% winning start.
After Airdrie’s Nathan Blockley and Willy McLaren spurned early openings, the Light Blues quickly asserted their superiority and took the lead inside 18 minutes when 19-year-old midfielder Lewis MacLeod slotted home from Robbie Crawford’s pass.
Andy Little lashed into the roof of the net to double the lead on 36 minutes before academy product Crawford hammered home number three early after the restart from Lee Wallace’s ground-level cross.
Daly opened his Gers account midway through the second half with a towering header for the first of three goals in as many minutes.
Nicky Law made it 5-0 with an unerring finish from Little’s cross when stealing in front of Airdrie captain Darren McCormack and Daly bagged his brace by driving a left-foot shot into the corner.
It was a five-star showing from the Gers, who recorded their biggest away win for 11 years to begin the campaign with nine points from nine after comfortable victories over Brechin City and Stranraer.
Meanwhile, the Diamonds, relegated from the First Division last term, sit eighth with just one point from three league outings – after a 3-3 draw at Forfar and last-gasp defeat to Stenhousemuir – as they still await their first win of the new campaign.
The Gers overcame the tough test on the artificial pitch to extend their unbeaten run against Airdrie to 25 games – stretching back to 1974/75 – in their first meeting for 12 years.
The rampant performance was the culmination of a positive week off the field for the Glasgow club after Charles Green agreed to stand down as consultant and sell his shareholding stakes.
Before the game, Light Blues boss Ally McCoist believed Airdrie would pose a stiff challenge to the Gers and challenge for the title this term with Jimmy Boyle – part of the Airdrie team beaten by the Gers in the Scottish Cup final 21 years ago – leading the young side, however, there has been no real evidence of the Diamonds’ promotion credentials so far.
Airdrie, given permission by the SFA to revert back to their old Airdrieonians name in June, continue to struggle with just one win in their last 19 league games while remarkably it has been 12 months since their last victory on home soil.
? DID YOU KNOW ?
Airdrieonians won just five of their 36 Scottish First Division matches last term.
It took until October for Rangers to register their first away league win last season but they have won their first two fixtures on the road in a league campaign for the first time in five years.
Rangers made one change from last Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Stranraer as Crawford was reinstated in midfield, with Dean Shiels dropping to the bench after making his first start in five months at Stair Park following a medial knee ligament injury.
New signings Law and Daly played their final matches as trialists having reached the permitted three-fixture limit and Ian Black was in the starting line-up after facing allegations of breaking betting rules over a seven-year period as the SFA issued a notice of complaint this week.
Darren Cole wasn’t involved after being told to stay away from the club following a breach of discipline while Ross Perry, Brazilian centre-back Emilson Cribari and Kyle Hutton remained on the sidelines but winger David Templeton was among the substitutes following treatment on a hamstring injury which has troubled his participation in recent weeks.
There was a first-team appearance on the bench for the first time for 19-year-old midfielder Charlie Telfer after scoring the winner for the Under-20s in a 3-2 victory over Ross County on Tuesday.
Part-timers Airdrie – who lost top scorer Ryan Donnelly to Brechin over the summer – were facing their third game in seven days, training four times this week compared to twice normally.
Manager Boyle reversed the nine changes made for the 2-0 defeat to holders Queen of the South in the second round of the Ramsdens Cup in midweek from last weekend’s 1-0 home loss to Stenhousemuir as first-choice strikers Lewis Coult and Jim Lister returned to the side.
Blockley passed a late fitness test to start although Jamie Barclay was ruled out along with last season’s player of the year John Boyle with respective knee problems. However, experienced former Dunfermline and Morton midfielder Martin Hardie was only fit enough for the bench after a calf injury as both line-ups consisted of an average age of 25.
It was a fiery atmosphere from the outset in front of a packed house for the first ever league meeting between the Lanarkshire side – established in 2002 to take the place of the then Airdrieonians – and the Ibrox club, with play having to be stopped inside 60 seconds for debris to be removed and flares to be burned out as smoke billowed over the pitch.
And the environment appeared to suit the hosts better as Airdrie flew out of the traps with purpose and vigour. Their first opening came as early as the second minute but Blockley couldn’t make a telling connection with McLaren’s square pass, sliding the ball wide ahead of Kyle McAusland.
McLaren was then released in behind by David Sinclair, with Gers goalkeeper Scott Gallacher called into action with a low fingertip save from the midfielder’s sidefooter as the defence was carved open although the officials incorrectly awarded a goal-kick.
Black dragged a 25-yard snapshot wide for the visitors before former Livingston midfielder Sinclair hooked an acrobatic effort narrowly past the post from Gregor Buchanan’s flick-on in a lively opening at both ends.
Gers midfielder Black saw a fizzed half-volley denied by Airdrie goalkeeper Colin Stewart, playing for his 12th club in the 17th year of his career, from 10 yards after Little glanced on Wallace’s cross as the visitors began to create openings.
And the Third Division champions inevitably took the lead as MacLeod netted his second goal in as many games with a low finish underneath Stewart from a precise Crawford through-ball.
As stewards dealt with security issues in the stands, the Gers took firm control as the hosts’ notorious direct approach proved ineffective.
A half-volley from Northern Ireland forward Little flew wide 20 yards out before Black lashed off target from a similar position while the Diamonds had a couple of half-hearted penalty shouts ignored for handball against Gers skipper Lee McCulloch – making his 600th British career appearance.
Lister poked over a decent opportunity for Airdrieonians after Lockley turned smartly on the edge of the box when surrounded by two defenders.
But last season’s top league scorer doubled Rangers’ lead on 36 minutes as Daly knocked down McCulloch’s long raking pass into the path of Little, who turned and rifled into the roof of the net from close range. The ex-Carlisle loanee came close to adding a third before half-time with an extravagant overhead kick, which was expertly tipped around the post by Stewart.
Indeed, Crawford, scorer of five goals in all competitions last season, widened the margins further early in the second half with a sweet piledriver from the edge of the six-yard box after Wallace’s dangerous low cross from the left was insufficiently cleared by former Scotland Under-21 defender Darren McCormack.
Wallace again proved a considerable threat down the flank with his marauding runs forward, taking up an excellent position before cutting back for Law to fire over having escaped Bain’s attentions.
Daly, with 72 goals in 302 Dundee United appearances, then guided a sidefooter wide of the post under pressure from Chris O’Neil.
The terrifically charged atmosphere tried to inspire the hosts as Hardie and former Kilmarnock defender Garry Hay entered the fray in place of McLaren and Bain, however Rangers were totally bossing proceedings.
? DID YOU KNOW ?
Rangers beat Alex McDonald’s Airdrie in the 1992 Scottish Cup final with current manager Ally McCoist on the scoresheet in a 2-1 win at Hampden Park – the club won the domestic treble that season and reached the Champions League semi-finals.
After volleying straight into the keeper’s gloves moments earlier, Daly finally ended his wait for a first competitive Rangers goal in the 66th minute by rising superbly ahead of McCormack to nod home following Crawford’s attempted shot which awkwardly spun into the air.
Number four was soon followed by a fifth as Gers ran riot in a fruitful spell which brought three goals in quick succession, increasing the misery on Airdrieonians.
Following a fantastic move of slick passing, ex-Motherwell midfielder Law ghosted in front of Buchanan to guide a deft clinical finish into the corner for his fourth goal of an already glittering campaign.
Fellow trialist Daly got in on the act once again to round off the scoring less than sixty seconds later with a patient angled finish which nestled into the far corner.
Ominously for the Diamonds, there was still 20 minutes remaining and a fully-fledged bench packed with quality at McCoist’s disposal as Templeton, Shiels and Fraser Aird were given a run-out in place of Little, MacLeod and Black.
Templeton was eager to make an impression, cutting inside of O’Neil to pull the trigger but his venomous effort was beaten away by Stewart before the ex-Hearts winger was cruelly denied a stoppage-time goal when referee Stephen Finnie pulled play back for a free-kick following a rash challenge by Buchanan when his shot bent into the far corner.
Law curled the resulting set-piece harmlessly wide but Rangers ran out easy winners to secure their biggest away win at Airdrie since a 6-0 Scottish Cup win in March 1963 and win for the fourth time in five competitive games this term, having also thumped Airdrie’s neighbours Albion Rovers in the Ramsdens Cup.
The Gers take on Berwick Rangers on Tuesday in the League Cup second round before hosting East Fife at Ibrox next Saturday, while Airdrieonians face Livingston in the cup in midweek before a trip to Ayr United next weekend.
“What a performance from Rangers, who certainly had the Friday night feel-good factor.
“Three wins out of three, Jon Daly off the mark for goals, a clean sheet, a number of top quality displays and sitting top of the league. Can you really ask for anything more as a manager?
“Ally McCoist will be delighted with the way his side dismantled one of the best teams in the division with ease. He got the very best out of his squad – Lewis MacLeod was sensational, Andy Little was a star performer, Daly outstanding, the defence was well organised and Ian Black kept his focus despite the media frenzy surrounding him this week.
“Everything was perfect – and it isn’t often you get to say that in football.
“Airdrie started off just as Jimmy Boyle would have asked in the dressing room beforehand. They took the game to Rangers in the opening five minutes and should have capitalised. Had they taken the lead it could have easily been a different story but they let the visitors into the game.
“Rangers were efficient but not overly spectacular in the first half. The breakthrough came at the right time when Airdrie were applying pressure and looking to create openings themselves. It was a decent turn from Robbie Crawford and the pass through to MacLeod was an easy one to play. The finish was accomplished, he knew exactly where he was putting it and the keeper was beaten low.
“It was a simple but effective move but Airdrie stood off them – which you do at your peril against a side of Rangers’ quality.
“The quality of the goals were simply terrific and were all the culmination of combative play, neat build-up, quick movement and high-class delivery. Nicky Law just can’t put a foot wrong at the moment. He and Black were instrumental again in midfield and worked off one another so well. #
“The forward bursts of left-back Wallace are such an important and dangerous weapon which Rangers exploit time after time, game in game out, and they are so difficult for the opposition to combat. It was a flawless display in all for Rangers.
“It has been an excellent start to the season and things can still improve when all the new signings come into the fold in the next couple of weeks. There were no rumblings of discontent around but a togetherness illustrating that things are starting to look up at Ibrox.
“Airdrie, meanwhile, may be sitting in a lowly eighth in the table but it’s too early to be worrying about positions. They showed bright spells throughout the game but in the end, Rangers were hungrier, opportunistic and ruthlessly clinical in front of goal.
“For Airdrie, it was a night off usual league business and a chance for them to enjoy the game, take in the atmosphere and the whole experience of hosting one of the Old Firm. Their season effectively starts next week, where they need to start putting points on the board to alleviate the pressure.
“Jimmy Boyle deserves credit for sticking two strikers up front and was prepared to have a go and attack Rangers. It backfired horribly but the scoreline – although reflecting Rangers’ sparkling play going forward – was harsh on the Diamonds.”
ABOUT THE AIRDRIEONIANS:
- Re-founded in 2002 after liquidation of original club with staggering £3 million debts
- Reverted back to old name in June
- Won two trophies in short history – Scottish Second Division 2003/04 and Ramsdens Cup 2008/09
- Stadium capacity of 10,171
- Installed new 3G artificial surface at end of 2009-10 season
- Relegated from Scottish First Division last season after finishing bottom
- Benefited from Rangers’ expulsion to fourth tier last summer by taking place of Dundee in second tier
Referee: Stephen Finnie (Scotland) – 7.5/10
Airdrieonians manager Jimmy Boyle: “I thought we started very well to be honest before they scored the first. I thought we had some really good chances but it tells its own story. Against teams like Rangers you have got to take your chances. Had we done that then it would have been a different scoreline. Tonight we’ve got a lesson on finishing. In the second half especially, they were devastating. For me, I’m really angry with the way we went about our business in the second half, it wasn’t good enough. On this evidence, we have got a lot of hard work to do and I’m embarrassed by the result.”
Rangers manager Ally McCoist: “I’m delighted for big Jon (Daly). His two goals are just reward for the way he has been performing lately. He has been playing well in the last two or three games. Strikers play on confidence in terms of goals although I have to say if Jon hadn’t scored tonight, we’d still be talking about a good level of performance from him. I thought for 20 minutes, Airdrie really came out the traps and we expected them to do that. After we got the opening goal with a great finish from Lewis, Andy did what he does and he produced a top finish. We were delighted to be 2-0 up at half-time because it could have been different. I asked the boys to give us a big performance in the second half and boy, did they give us it.”