A LEE McCULLOCH penalty on 76 minutes proved crucial for Rangers as they battle back from being a goal down twice to claim three points against Arbroath at Ibrox.
In what proved to be a dramatic match for the 41,207 fans in the stadium it was the visitor’s David Banjo that opened the scoring in the first minute before Jon Daly equalised to make it 1-1 at half time.
The Red Litchies’ Bobby Linn put his side in front again immediately after the restart before substitute David Templeton netted with a superb shot after he had replaced Lewis Macleod on 55 minutes.
McCulloch then smashed home his spot kick after Daly had been brought down in the box to give the Light Blues their 21st League One victory of 2013/14.
For long spells it looked as though it was going to be a disappointing and frustrating afternoon for the home fans as their side struggled to shift through the gears against Paul Sheerin’s men.
Templeton’s introduction on 55th minute however proved pivotal as he gave his side the lift they required and also got them back into the game with his superb finish which made it 2-2.
Ally McCoist made two changes to the team that beat Forfar at Station Park on Monday night with Cammy Bell and Ian Black back in the starting line-up and Steve Simonsen and Richard Foster dropping to the bench for kick-off.
Rangers however could not have got off to a worse possible start. With just one minute showing on the scoreboards the visitors took a shock lead with a well-worked goal.
With several Arbroath players pushing forward, Alan Cook picked the ball up on the left wing and his excellent delivery found Banjo in space at the back post. The number nine volleyed it first time into the net, giving Bell no chance on his return to the side.
Rangers looked to respond quickly and a blistering 30-yard shot from Lee Wallace went a foot wide of Scott Morrison’s far post before fizzing into fans in the Broomloan Stand.
Despite the early setback Rangers were now starting to settle into the game and on 20 minutes Daly got the crucial equaliser with a superb goal.
Black’s perfectly weighted pass found Wallace who had made a great run in behind Arbroath’s right back Ricky Little.
His low, first time cross was perfect for Daly who, after finding a yard of space, slotted the ball confidently past Morrison from 10 yards.
The goal was just what the league leaders needed and two minutes after levelling they created another good opening.
Black fed the ball to Macleod down the left channel and after beating his marker in the box his dinked cross floated over Morrison’s head but was cleared at the back post by a defender.
Wallace again was causing mayhem on the left flank with his pace and power and before the half hour mark he again pushed the turbo button to get beyond Banjo and Little.
His cross was identical to the one that helped get his side back on level terms but Daly, on this occasion, sclaffed his finish before the danger was cleared.
On 33 minutes a good run from Fraser Aird picked out Dean Shiels but his rising right-foot shot hit the side netting although Morrison looked to have his near post covered.
With the first half coming to an end super skipper McCulloch was guilty squandering a decent opportunity. A deep corner fell to Macleod who clipped a cross into Mohsni. With his back to goal he chested the ball down to Jig on the edge of the 18-yard box but he hit his shot high and wide and the score at half time remained 1-1.
After an unconvincing opening 45, Rangers looked to have started the second half brightly when Law got in behind the Red Lichties’ defence but Morrison made a good stop with his feet to deny the midfielder.
Once again, however, Arbroath caught the home side on the counter when they got their noses in front with 49 minutes played.
Lone striker Bobby Linn broke away and found himself one-on-one with Bell. With Seb Faure and Bilel Mohsni both trying to get back the Gers keeper got a hand to the number seven’s low shot but it bounced off the post and into the net.
With the hour mark approaching and his side in need of a spark McCoist made two changes with Templeton replacing Macleod and Andy Little going on for Shiels.
This proved so crucial as it was Templeton who equalised with a superb finish on 71 minutes. With the Ibrox faithful getting restless the winger twisted and turned to get into the box after drifting in from the left and his shot flew across Morrison and inside his far post.
It was a fine effort from the sub and two minutes later he smacked a low left foot shot off the post from 20 yards. It came back out to Mohsni who rolled it in but the linesman had his flag up as he raced away to celebrate with fans in the Copland.
His celebrations may have been premature but it was not long before Rangers had the ball in the net again to make the score 3-2.
Little’s cross from the left looked perfect for Daly but the club’s top scorer was pushed in the back by Colin Hamilton and referee Barry Cook immediately pointed to the spot.
McCulloch quickly darted up the pitch to grab the ball and his powerful penalty beat Morrison who dived to his right but was nowhere near getting his fingers to the ball.
Rangers were now in the driving seat but the drama was not over yet. As the game entered the last minute an Arbroath corner led to a scramble in the six-yard box which seemed to last an eternity.
With several Arbroath players trying to get the ball over the line the players in blue somehow managed to clear the danger and hold on to claim a big win which increased the gap at the top of League One to 23 points.
RANGERS (4-4-2): Bell; Faure, Mohsni, McCulloch, Wallace; Aird, Law, Black, Macleod (Templeton 55); Shiels (Little 58), Daly
SUBS NOT USED: Simonsen, Crawford, Cribari, Peralta, Foster
GOALS: Banjo 1, Linn 49
BOOKED: McCulloch, Black
ARBROATH (4-1-4-1): Morrison; Little, Travis, Keddie, Hamilton; Nicoll; Banjo (Sheerin 78), Chisholm (Bayne 84), Scott (McManus 78), Cook; Linn
SUBS NOT USED: Wood, Lindsay, Yao, Robertson
GOALS: Daly 20, Templeton 71, McCulloch 76pen
BOOKED: Cook, Hamilton
REF: Barry Cook