A SECOND-half comeback from Rangers saw them move to within five wins of the Third Division title but only after East Stirlingshire had given them a scare at Ibrox.

The Light Blues had most of the play in a tame first half but were 1-0 down at the break thanks to Andrew Stirling’s opener.

Andy Little’s second-half brace – which takes his tally to eight goals in five games and 24 for the season – and Lee McCulloch’s strike then turned things around after the break.

And while this wasn’t one of the more convincing shows of the campaign from the 54-times Scottish champions, it still gave them a win that edges them closer to the silverware.

Nine matches remain and with victories only required in just over half to guarantee success, the finishing line is coming into sight.

It has been a strange old week at the club, with a less than enjoyable start due to focus on misbehaviour of some fans during the victory at Berwick then a poor draw at Stirling.

But as time has gone on, the mood has improved and the SPL EBT Commission verdict on Thursday was a positive one which gave Gers so much momentum to carry forward.

Added to that, announcements regarding next season’s kit manufacturers and shirt sponsors meant fans turned up at Ibrox in good spirits.

And the team’s start to the match reflected that as it started on the front foot, clearly determined to make up for that slip up at Forthbank.

Kal Naismith, making his second consecutive start after impressing since coming back into the team recently, had the first chance.

His drive was well struck and away keeper Grant Hay did well to block it then smother as returning captain McCulloch tried to chase down the rebound.

Hay was also alert enough to deny Little moments later and Kyle Hutton drove over as the hosts sought an early opener.

From there, a now familiar pattern developed as the Light Blues had possession for much of the half but failed to take chances and ultimately trailed at the interval.

The frequency with which that happens will be of great concern to manager Ally McCoist, whose team once again failed to hit top gear and looked in little danger only to fall behind.

After a brief lull, Gers did make openings and Little flashed a header wide then put another past the post, with McCulloch also bringing out a good stop from Hay.

In amongst all that, Jamie Glasgow almost took advantage of a defensive mix-up between Emilson Cribari and Lee Wallace but Neil Alexander bailed them out.

Rangers pressed regularly but rarely looked like producing the sort of end product another thronging crowd was looking for.

A break upfield resulted in Hutton picking out Little after he had been released by David Templeton but the Northern Ireland striker shot himself when he should have fed McCulloch.

Naismith also put the ball past the post as he and the skipper seemed to get in each other’s way after Anestis Argyriou centred.

The lack of conviction was to prove costly five minutes before the midway point when Shire went in front at Ibrox for the second time this season.

Andrew Stirling was the scorer, finishing well after a decent one-two with Paul Quinn which was allowed to happen too easily by the home rearguard.

McCulloch’s return to the side had worked both for and against the team in an awkward opening period.

He certainly added presence up front but East Stirlingshire countered that by marking him well and a tendency to play long balls to the 34-year-old from the back didn’t work.

Nevertheless, it was he who looked most likely to have his team on level terms going into the break.

Almost immediately, he fired into the net from the edge of the area only to find the goal wouldn’t stand because he had committed a foul on the way.

McCulloch then rammed a powerful free kick down Hay’s throat and will have been frustrated to see the keeper fist it away really well. It wasn’t to be.

After the restart, however, it was and for all that first halves have been a problem for Rangers at times, second halves have generally been quite fruitful.

This one got off to the ideal start as Little equalised on 50 minutes, tapping in after Argyriou saw his name in lights as a shooting chance opened up and scuffed it across the face.

McCulloch then added a second – his 23rd goal this term – as he rounded Hay and slotted in after a wonderful first touch from Templeton created space for him to pass.

Moments later it was three as Little drilled in from an angle on the left and suddenly all was well at Ibrox again.

Templeton might have seen a fourth credited to him as Shire buckled in the face of a more intense performance from Rangers.

But after substitute Barrie McKay’s run had ended with McCulloch driving and Hay stopping him again, the former Hearts winger was offside and his close-range finish didn’t stand.

As it was, those three goals in a 12-minute burst were enough to finish the match as a contest and the victory was relatively comfortable in the end.

And while there’s no doubt there’s still work to be done and improvements to be made, the Light Blues are edging closer to the trophy.

RANGERS: Alexander; Argyriou, Hegarty, Emilson, Wallace; Naismith (McKay 65), Black, Hutton, Templeton (Aird 90); Little, McCulloch (Hemmings 87).

SUBS: Gallacher, Faure.

SCORERS: Little 51, 63, McCulloch 61.

EAST STIRLINGSHIRE: Hay, Shepherd (Gillespie 68), Maxwell, Miller, Buchanan, Hunter, Greenhill, Stirling, Turner, Quinn (Zufle 76), Glasgow (Wright 64).

SUBS: Gordon, Benton.

SCORER: Stirling 40.

BOOKED: Turner, Gillespie.

REFEREE: Brian Colvin.


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