TEN-MAN Rangers had to show all their fighting spirit and determination to defeat fifth-placed Stenhousemuir 2-0, a result which takes Ally McCoist’s men 17 points clear at the top of League One.
Nicky Law’s superb finish from Jon Daly’s knock down on 35 minutes ignited a game that had started slowly on Ochilview’s tricky 3G pitch.
But moments after taking the lead the visitors suffered a massive set-back when Arnold Peralta, who was making his return to Rangers’ starting XI, was shown a straight red card for a high challenge on left back Eddie Malone.
The decision from ref Bobby Madden to send off the Honduran appeared harsh and it meant the league leaders faced a 50-minute battle to secure three valuable points.
Thankfully they managed to hold on to record their 18th league win of the campaign and Law put icing on the cake at the death when he produced another moment of class to double his side’s advantage with a stunning effort.
McCoist made three changes to his side that beat Airdrie 1-0 at New Broomfield on January 2 with Richard Foster, Peralta and Andy Little replacing the suspended Bilel Mohsni, Lewis Macleod and Nicky Clark respectively.
Having lost 8-0 to Rangers at Ibrox on September 28 and 1-0 at the semi-final stage of the Ramsdens Cup on October 29, Warriors boss Martyn Corrigan would have been looking for his side to keep it tight in the opening stages of today’s game and they certainly did that.
In fact fans in the ground had to wait until the 17th minute for the first goalscoring opportunity and what a chance it was for the home side’s Sean Higgins.
Seb Faure’s back pass to Cammy Bell was short but the Gers keeper pulled off a superb double save to deny Stenny’s number nine who should have put his side in front.
With half an hour on the clock Rangers had enjoyed plenty of possession without testing keeper Chris Smith but on 31 minutes Lee Wallace came within inches of breaking the deadlock.
Lee McCulloch’s long ball was brilliantly chested down by the marauding left back who smashed a left-foot shot off the near post with Smith flapping at thin air. Four minutes later however and the visitors were in front thanks to Law’s superb strike.
Foster floated a high ball towards Daly who headed the ball down to his team-mate who ghosted into the 18 yard box before powering a first time shot low into the bottom corner of the net in front of the travelling Bears.
It was a moment of quality from the playmaker who showed great composure to net his eight goal of the season but just when Rangers were starting to take control of the match for the first time Peralta was sent for an early bath for his challenge on Malone.
With the scoreline sitting at 1-0 at half time, Little moved back into midfield for the restart as McCoist switched to a 4-4-1 formation.
As expected the second half saw Rangers sit deeper as Stenhousemuir threw players forward and credit has to go to the backline of Foster, McCulloch, Faure and Wallace for the protection they provided in front of Bell.
Wallace, as ever, did not just sit back though and he continued to power forward at every given opportunity to relieve the pressure on the defence and to link up with Fraser Aird who was always a threat.
On 67 minutes the winger cut inside his marker before unleashing a shot which from 25 yards which was straight at Smith. Law then tried his luck from a similar range but this time the keeper dived to his left to make a confident stop.
On 75 minutes Robbie Crawford was introduced to the game, taking the place of Little who put in a tireless shift, as Rangers looked to keep the ball as the clock ticked down.
Stenhousemuir kept going until the final whistle but they will be disappointed they didn’t trouble Bell more after half time with the Gers defence staying watertight.
And in the final minute Stenny let their concentration slip again as Law made his way into the 18-yard box and his delightful finish across Smith into the top corner was from the top drawer.
STENHOUSEMUIR: Smith, Devlin, Malone, Greacen, McMillan, Hodge (Gemmell 55), Dickson (Smith 80), Rowson, Higgins, Lynch, McKinlay
SUBS: McNeil, Faulds, Ferguson, Douglas, Shaw
BOOKINGS: Devlin, McKinlay
RANGERS: Bell; Foster, McCulloch, Faure, Wallace; Peralta, Black (Murdoch 89), Law, Aird; Daly, Little (Crawford 75)
SUBS: Simonsen, Clark, Smith, Cribari, Shiels
GOALS: Law (35, 89)
SENT OFF: Peralta
REF: Bobby Madden