RANGERS retain their eight-point gap at the top of the Scottish Championship this evening following a hard-fought win over Queen of the South at Palmerston.
Hibernian’s victory over Alloa earlier in the day meant the pressure was on Mark Warburton’s side to deliver, and they duly did with Kenny Miller scoring a quite wonderful winner just minutes after coming on as a substitute in the second half.
The Light Blues began the match brightly, and they forged an opportunity straight from kick-off as Michael O’Halloran went on a mazy run through midfield and evaded a number of challenges before being forced wide in the area with his final effort from an impossible angle unsurprisingly over the bar.
At the other end, the ever-dangerous Derek Lyle was denied by Wes Foderingham as he got his head onto the end of a Mark Millar corner kick at the back post, with his initial effort rebounding off the goalkeeper and his second shot going wide of the target.
It has been a while since James Tavernier scored one of his special free-kicks, but he came close to breaking his duck with goalkeeper Jim Atkinson forced into a smart save to prevent the ball finding the top corner before the resulting corner saw Queens make a mess of the clearance with the ball eventually dropping to Billy King on the penalty spot, but his effort was scuffed and only found the arms of Atkinson.
The pressure was growing all the time on the Dumfries side however, and having spilled an initial Andy Halliday shot, Atkinson had to be alert to turn a Nicky Clark shot around the post with his outstretched foot.
It was all Rangers, but they were failing to turn their territorial control into too many goalscoring opportunities and almost went behind to a howitzer Lewis Kidd drive from 30-yards out of nothing which cracked the crossbar before ‘Gers raced to the other end through O’Halloran although again Atkinson was there to deny him.
There was one final opportunity for Warburton’s boys before the half ended as Tavernier tested Atkinson with another free-kick effort, which this time he turned over the bar from a very central position.
After the break, it was the home side who fashioned the first chance although it came from a Rangers error. Under pressure, Rob Kiernan cleared a ball only as far as the lurking Jake Pickard inside the area, and his shot was smartly turned around the post by Wes Foderingham as he bailed out one of his defenders.
Rangers responded, and Jason Holt fired wide from a Tavernier cross before Lee Wallace shot from distance with an effort that was easily gathered by Atkinson.
It wasn’t really working for Rangers however, and Warburton replaced Billy King and Nicky Clark with Dean Shiels and Kenny Miller.
And the latter of those changes was to have the most spectacular of impacts on the match within three minutes of taking to the field.
Picking up a Lee Wallace throw-in put on the left wing, Miller decided to shoot for goal from all of 25-yards. His effort looked to be way too high but at the last moment it took an incredible dip and nestled in the top corner, leaving Atkinson rooted to his line.
It truly was a wonderful goal, his 100th in Scottish League football and one reminiscent of the spectacular strike from Nacho Novo which won the 2009 Scottish Cup Final against Falkirk.
Queens weren’t out of the game however, and after Halliday had given away a free-kick for a foul on Gary Oliver, Foderingham produced a stunning save to deny Ryan Conroy finding the back of the net with an excellent free-kick.
Foderingham was required again to deny Oliver and then Lewis Kidd fired the rebound over the bar, while Holt came close to securing the points for Rangers as his shot flew through Atkinson’s hands and off the crossbar.
The Doonhamers were giving it a right go however, and Foderingham made another excellent save to deny Chris Higgins’ header finding the net after he won the ball unmarked at the front post.
There was a nervous moment in the final minute as Andy Dowie headed a free-kick over the bar, but Rangers held on for yet another crucial victory in the race for the Championship title.
RANGERS: Foderingham; Tavernier, Wilson, Kiernan, Wallace; Halliday, Holt, McKay; King (Shiels, 60), Clark (Miller, 60), O’Halloran.
SUBS NOT USED: Bell, Law, Ball, Zelalem, Forrester.
QUEEN OF THE SOUTH: Atkinson, Kidd, Dowie, Higgins, Harris (Smith, 83), Millar (Oliver, 69), Lyle (Russell, 31), Conroy, Hutton, Pickard, Marshall.
SUBS NOT USED: Thomson, Brownlie, Jacobs, Tapping.
REFEREE: Mr Stephen Finnie