SECOND HALF goals from Nicky Clark, Darren McGregor and Haris Vuckic (2) gave Rangers a crucial win over Cowdenbeath at Ibrox Stadium.
In a game which saw 18-year-old Ryan Hardie make his home debut, it was Clark who opened the scoring in the 49th minute from close range and from there you expected the Light Blues to ease to victory.
The visitors, however, drew level with 15 minutes remaining when Kudus Oyenuga took advantage of poor defending to stun the Ibrox faithful but the drama was not finished there.
Man-of-the-match McGregor put his side in front yet again with a stunning right foot daisy cutter against his former club before super sub Haris Vuckic netted a sensational late double to take the score to 4-1.
With second place Hibs losing 2-1 to Raith Rovers, Rangers are now level on points with Alan Stubbs’ men with a game in-hand.
David Templeton was named in Stuart McCall’s starting eleven this afternoon with Marius Zaliukas on international duty. That meant the manager switched from a 4-5-1 formation to 4-4-2 with Templeton on the left wing and Shiels on the right.
Prior to kick off the Union Bears produced a stunning card and banner display as a tribute to Davie Cooper but the opening 10 minutes of the game were surprisingly flat with both teams taking time to settle.
Templeton, however, was quickly in the thick of the action and after just 120 seconds he was left writhing in pain on the turf after he was on the end of a crunching challenge from Colin Marshall which resulted in the midfielder receiving the first yellow card of the game.
With 12 minutes on the clock three corners from Nicky Law produced chances for McCulloch and then Mohsni. Jig’s first header was brilliantly tipped over by Thomson who then produced another excellent stop to deny Mohsni before the Tunisian’s second header in the space of a couple of minutes went narrowly wide.
This passage of play got the fans out of their seats and Law was then inches away from putting his side in front with a moment of magic.
The Gers number 7 was found in in the box and after cutting inside his marker brilliantly he curled a trademark shot across Thomson but the ball bounced agonisingly off the post.
After a sluggish start Rangers were now putting the Cowden defence under sustained pressure with the industrious Kenny Miller next up to see a shot trickle inches wide of target.
Unfortunately Rangers failed to take the lead during this positive spell and the visitors managed to regroup with Lee Makel barking instructions in the absence of Central Park boss Jimmy Nicholl, who is currently on international duty with Northern Ireland as Michael O’Neill’s assistant.
The rain started to lash down on the Ibrox pitch towards the end of the first half which dampened the atmosphere in the ground.
And while the Rangers players kept probing they were unable to break the deadlock before the interval with Dean Shiels bringing out a comfortable save from Thomson with a low right foot shot after he had been played in by Templeton.
As the second half got underway you felt Rangers needed an early goal and they got it just three minutes after the restart through Clark.
Templeton played a clever pass inside to Lee Wallace as he moved into Cowdenbeath’s 18-yard box. His shot brought out a fingertip save from Thomson but Clark was alert to bundle the ball over the line from close range in front of the Copland Stand.
Having only scored one goal in their last six games it was always going to be tough for the visitors to get back into the match and prior to going behind they hadn’t troubled Cammy Bell in any way.
Rangers, on the other hand, went in search of a second goal and on 53 minutes they produced another good move down the left flank.
Templeton played a great pass to the overlapping Wallace and his cut back found Shiels. The Ulsterman, however, could not get enough purchase on the ball and his effort went wide.
On 69 minutes McCall made his first substitution with Vuckic replacing Shiels while Cowdenbeath had already put on Kyle Miller and Robbie Buchanan at this stage.
Within a minute of the Slovenian’s introduction Rangers should have doubled their lead and Clark will lie in bed tonight wondering how he missed.
Templeton darted down the left wing and his cross flew across the six yard box to Clark who sent the ball wide from just two yards.
This was to be the striker’s last chance to score as he was replaced by Ryan Hardie who was making his home debut for the Gers.
The fans gave the youngster a terrific welcome as he jogged on wearing his number 52 jersey but within two minutes they were stunned into silence when Cowdenbeath equalised.
A slack pass from Mohsni was intercepted by Lewis Toshney who played an accurate pass to the unmarked Oyenuga. He sprinted through on goal before hammering a shot beyond the helpless Cammy Bell.
Rangers were now in need of a hero to save the day and Darren McGregor stepped up to the plate initially against the team which gave him his big break in senior football at the age of 19. The defender blasted a powerful shot into the opposite bottom corner of Thomson’s net and the relief around the ground was palpable.
With two minutes remaining Vuckic then came to the fore as he made it 3-1 with a tidy finish after excellent build-up play involving Wallace.
The on-loan Newcastle forward then struck once again in the final minute with a superb finish as Rangers completed the job, and secured three very valuable points, in style.
RANGERS (4-4-2): Bell; McGregor, McCulloch, Mohsni, Wallace; Shiels (Vuckic 69), Murdoch, Law, Templeton (Black 86); Miller, Clark (Hardie 74)
SUBS NOT USED: Robinson, Daly, Aird, Crawford
GOALS: Clark 48, McGregor 84, Vuckic 88, 90
COWDENBEATH (4-4-1-1): Thomson; Toshney, Armstrong, Brownlie, Wedderburn; Robertson, Marshall, Hughes (Miller 65), Oyenuga; Milne (O’Brien 84); Higgins (Buchanan 69)
SUBS NOT USED: Sneddon, Nish, Kane, Johnstone
GOALS: Oyenuga 75
BOOKINGS: Marshall, Armstrong
REF: Brian Colvin