STEVIE SMITH’S stunning free kick and a debut goal from youngster Calum Gallagher gave Rangers their 27th league win this season and their fourth against Dunfermline in all competitions.
In the last minute of the first half Arnold Peralta was brought down and Smith showed great technique to curl an unstoppable effort from 25 yards beyond Pars’ substitute goalkeeper Ryan Goodfellow.
It was a moment to savour for the experienced left back who before today had scored just one goal in his entire career. Remarkably that came in a 2-0 victory over Dunfermline at Ibrox on November 11, 2006!
Rangers continued to dominate large spells of this match and in the final minute they were rewarded for their efforts. Gallagher, after replacing Smith, received the ball from Ian Black before showing great composure to coolly slot it in from 15 yards.
Ally McCoist made five changes to his starting eleven following Wednesday night’s 3-0 title-clinching victory over Airdrie.
Nicky Clark, Arnold Peralta, Seb Faure, Robbie Crawford and Smith all came in to face the Pars with Jon Daly and Lee Wallace named on the bench, Andy Little and David Templeton injured and Nicky Law rested ahead of Monday’s Scottish Cup replay against Albion Rovers.
This meant Lee McCulloch joined Clark in attack with Seb Faure and Bilel Mohsni featuring in the centre of defence.
With the league title already in the bag there was a feel-good atmosphere in the stadium as the teams emerged for the tunnel for the kick-off.
Dunfermline’s players walked out first to create a guard of honours which was a nice touch from the visitors who themselves have enjoyed a fine season.
As soon as the action got underway however the intensity was quickly turned up and in the first half there were no fewer than six bookings dished out and the Pars’ Danny Grainger also saw red after the break.
Rangers started the match positively and within minutes Nicky Clark had headed a Black cross over Ryan Scully’s bar before Fraser Aird cut inside and hit a powerful drive which went wide.
With four minutes on the clock Jim Jefferies was forced to make an early change with Scully hobbling off and reserve keeper Goodfellow taking his place between the posts.
The break in play gave Dunfermline the chance to regroup and on nine minutes they created their first opportunity. Grainger’s deep free-kick dropped in at Cammy Bell’s back post but Callum Morris headed the ball over from close range.
On 16 minutes Stephen Husband then skipped past a couple of challenges and his right foot shot across goal brought out a good save from the Gers number one.
The Pars were growing in confidence and before the half-hour mark a free kick from Ross Forbes fizzed just wide before Shankland shanked a shot past the same post having found a yard of space away from Mohsni.
An injury to McCulloch meant the play was held up as the skipper received treatment and this again didn’t help the flow of a scrappy first half which probably saw fouls than shots on target.
It ended on a high though with Smith’s moment of magic. After Honduran international Peralta was brought down the left-back’s curling free-kick gave Goodfellow no chance as the ball soared high into the top corner of the net in front of jubilant bears in the Copland Stand.
For the start of the second period Emilson Cribari replaced Bilel Mohsni with McCoist clearly keeping one eye on Monday night’s Scottish Cup replay against Albion Rovers.
The Brazilian was quickly in the thick of the action as the visitors looked to get back into the game but he looked assured and composed throughout the second period alongside the dependable Faure and man-of-the-match Richard Foster.
With both teams putting in plenty of graft, and certainly not shirking out of any tackles, McCulloch was the next player to be taken off with Kyle Hutton going on as Rangers switched to a 4-5-1 formation.
McCulloch handed the captain’s armband to Smith as he went off, a fitting gesture given the way the defender played today and his overall contribution for the Gers during his two spells at the club.
While these changes were being made the game continued at a high tempo with Rangers able to sit back and soak up Dunfermline’s pressure and hit them on the counter.
As it was there were not many goalscoring chances to report on in the second half with the introduction of Murray Park kid Gallagher being a highlight.
The youngster, who has scored seven goals for Gordon Durie’s under-20s this season, went on for Smith and showed plenty of the energy fans of the Swifts have become used to seeing from the young Scot.
It was a tackle on the youngster which led to Grainger being sent off and in the last minute he marked his debut with a fine goal.
Black produced a powerful run from deep and his pass was perfect for his 19-year-old team-mate who blasted a low shot into the net to complete another great day’s work for the Light Blues.
RANGERS: Bell; Foster, Mohsni (Cribari 46), Faure, Smith (Gallagher 73); Crawford, Black, Peralta, Aird; McCulloch (Hutton 58), Clark
SUBS: Simonsen, Wallace, Shiels, Daly
GOALS: Smith 45, Gallagher 90
BOOKINGS: Mohsni, Foster, McCulloch
DUNFERMLINE: Scully (Goodfellow 4), Millen, Page, Morris, Grainger, El Bakhtaoui (Smith72), Geggan, Husband, Whittle (Byrne 27), Forbes, Shankland
SUBS: Thomson, Falkingham, Martin, Williamson
BOOKINGS: Grainger, Whittle, Forbes
SENT OFF: Grainger
REF: Kevin Clancy