While so-called pundits and football experts have spent the week outlining why they think the Light Blues won’t be crowned champions this season, Alex McLeish’s men ruthlessly set about proving the doubters wrong by thoroughly dismantling Kilmarnock.

Three of the goals came in a storming first-half showing – Peter Lovenkrands, Michael Mols and Mikel Arteta were the scorers – as Rangers gave themselves the perfect warm-up ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League qualifier with FC Copenhagen.

It was a great afternoon in particular for Arteta and he received a warm reception from the 49,000 fans packed into Ibrox every time he jogged over to take a corner kick.

If, as seems increasingly likely, the young Spaniard is to remain at Ibrox this season then he could well be a key player in the coming months.

After sweeping home a first-half penalty, he doubled his tally with Rangers’ fourth goal in the 72nd minute when he lashed a 25-yard strike past Colin Meldrum.

He departed four minutes later – replaced by Bob Malcolm – to a standing ovation and it was thoroughly deserved.

The Light Blues will face much sterner opposition than Kilmarnock – who were reduced to 10 men when Chris Innes was sent off after 34 minutes – in the months ahead but it was as good a start to the campaign as McLeish had dared hoped for.

After chairman John McClelland had unveiled the championship flag to a backdrop of noise and colour, it was soon down to the real business as Rangers set about the defence of their title with much enthusiasm and gusto.

The match saw a league debut for Zurab Khizanishvili, who partnered Craig Moore at the heart of the defence, with Michael Ball also making a welcome return to competitive action after 21 months.

There was little to unduly stretch either of the new faces in the Rangers defence although Khizanishvili looked sublimely cool as he casually dealt with any rare Kilmarnock attacks.

The last time Jim Jefferies brought his side up the M77 to Govan they were on the wrong end of a 4-0 hammering that could, and perhaps should, have been much more.

It was little different this time around as Rangers penned Killie in their own half straight from the kick-off and soon the Ayrshire side were reeling on the ropes like a punch-drunk boxer.

As early as the first minute – when Mols scooped a shot narrowly over the crossbar – it was apparent there would be only winner in this contest and it wasn’t going to be a close decision either.

Innes’ fate was cast as early as the sixth minute when he was booked for dragging down the lively Mols and a revitalised Barry Ferguson curled a free kick that dropped just the wrong side of the crossbar.

Killie hadn’t heeded the warning signs and with the new season just 14 minutes old Rangers were ahead. It was a disaster for keeper Meldrum – replacing the recently departed Gordon Marshall – who rose to claim a hopeful Fernando Ricksen cross.

Like an England cricketer in the slips, Meldrum juggled the ball as if it had been warmed up in the oven before dropping the ball at the feet of the Lovenkrands who slipped it into the gaping net from a matter of yards. Cue the summersaults.

Rangers weren’t finished there and only an offside flag saved Freddie Dindeleux’s blushes after the Frenchman had slid Lovenkrands’ cross past his own keeper just two minutes later.

It was now an uphill battle for Kilmarnock just to try to suppress the constant wave of Rangers’ attacks and their cause wasn’t helped in 34 minutes when Innes took the long walk up the tunnel after receiving a second yellow card for clattering into Mols once more.

After climbing gingerly to his feet, Mols’ endeavour was rewarded when the Light Blues extended their lead after 38 minutes.

It was a simple move. Arteta’s corner was knocked down by Moore and the Dutchman swept the ball beyond the hapless Meldrum.

Before the celebrations had died down, Rangers had scored a third. Ronald de Boer’s deep cross was searching out a back post run from Ferguson but before the Gers captain could jump for the header he was upended by Greg Shields.

Ferguson headed up the tunnel for treatment and, after all the commotion had died down, Arteta slammed the spot-kick low past the goalkeeper.

To much relief, the Scotland star returned after the break and was making Meldrum scurry across his line to gather a well-struck shot.

It was always going to be hard to maintain the momentum of the first half and the pace dropped as the Light Blues comfortably defended their insurmountable lead.

With the victory in the bag, McLeish handed Paolo Vanoli his debut in place of Michael Ball and the Italian almost enjoyed an immediate impact when his low cross only just eluded the lurking Mols.

Arteta then put an extra sheen on the scoreline with a spectacular fourth goal as Rangers showed their critics they are very much still alive and kicking.

News that Celtic had only managed a draw at Dunfermline was the icing on the championship cake.

RANGERS (4-3-3): 1 Klos; 21 Ross, 3 Moore, 15 Khizanishvili, 18 Ball (Vanoli 63); 2 Ricksen (Thompson 82), 6 Ferguson, 23 Arteta; 14 de Boer, 10 Mols, 11 Lovenkrands

Subs not used: McGregor, Burke

Booked: Khizanishvili (44), Ferguson (58)

KILMARNOCK (4-4-2): 1 Meldrum; 2 Shields, 5 Innes, 6 Dindeleux, 24Hay; 20 di Giacomo (McSwegan 78), 4 Locke, 15 Hessey, 8 Fulton; 27 Invincible, 12 Boyd (Nish 78)

Subs not used: Dubourdeau, Hardie, McDonald

Booked: Innes (6), Hessey (40), di Giacomo (67), Shields (79), McSwegan (90)

Sent Off: Innes (34), 

Man of the Match: Mikel Arteta

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