DEAN SHIELS marked his return to the starting eleven with a deadly double as Rangers beat East Fife for a third time this season to maintain the club’s 17–point gap at the top of League One.
Shiel had not started a match since August 27 when the Light Blues beat Berwick Rangers 2-0 in the second round Ramsdens Cup at Ibrox.
But this afternoon he took just four minutes to find the net and he then scored his side’s second after the hour mark as Ally McCoist’s men recorded their 19th league win of the season.
The manager made two changes to his starting line-up with Bilel Mohsni also back in after he had missed the 2-0 victory over Stenhousemuir last weekend because of suspension. He took the place of Richard Foster with Arnold Peralta also missing today’s game after his red card at Ochilview.
With Nicky Clark (foot), David Templeton (thigh), Lewis Macleod (calf), Stevie Smith (ankle) all out along with long-term absentees Ross Perry and Chris Hegarty the manager named just six players on the bench.
And when Cammy Bell walked off tentatively from the warm up there were concerns that number could drop to five with Steve Simonsen getting ready to take his place.
Bell, however, emerged from the tunnel with his team-mates and took part in a perfectly observed minute’s silence for Ian Redford before referee Don Robertson got the action underway.
After two heavy defeats to Rangers already this season – 5-0 and 4-0 - East Fife’s new boss Gary Naysmith must have been hoping his side would get off to a good start on their second trip to Ibrox this season.
Rangers, however, came flying out of the traps and immediately looked to open the scoring. On three minutes Andy Little dragged a left foot shot wide from 20 yards before Aird had an effort cleared off the line after he produced a positive run into the box.
It took just four minutes for the opening goal to arrive and it had to be Shiels who got it. A deep corner fell to the number 10 and his deflected shot somehow squeezed between a defender and the near post before rolling over the line.
With an early lead in place Rangers continued to push forward with intent and 60 seconds after the goal Little looked to be brought down inside East Fife’s box. The ref, however, booked the Ulsterman for a dive.
East Fife managed to regroup after the initial onslaught and on 26 minutes they should have been on level terms. Blair Henderson’s cutback cross found the visitor’s top scorer Liam Buchanan in acres of space in the box. He had time to pick his spot but his shot was brilliantly blocked by Mohsni with fans expecting to see the net ripple.
At the other end the big defender was in the thick of the action as well and if Buchanan was guilty of missing a great chance so was the Gers ace before the half hour mark. Aird’s curling corner was perfect for Mohsni but he headed over from six yards when he should certainly have done better.
As the game went on the Fifers continued to gain confidence and when Buchanan went through on goal it was Nicky Law who darted back to make a crucial stop.
On 40 minutes Jon Daly then had his head in his hands when he too missed a snip. Lee Wallace’s low cross was missed by a defender as it went through to the towering number nine. With defenders getting back he did well to create a yard of space but proceeded to sclaff his shot wide.
At the half-time whistle there was an air of frustration around the stadium with Rangers failing to build on their early dominance.
Fernando Ricksen’s appearance at the break did, however, have fans off their seats again and it was clearly an emotional moment for the Dutchman who helped conduct the Rising Stars draw.
It was Fernando’s first visit back to Ibrox to watch a game since he left in 2006 and fans showed their affection for the club’s former captain who is battling with Motor Neurone Disease.
Rangers might have started the first half well but it was their opponents that made a positive start to the second period with Buchanan, wearing number 19, putting in an impressive shift.
Within a minute of the restart the striker slipped a clever ball in behind Wallace to right winger Ross Brown and his cross put pressure on Lee McCulloch who was at full stretch as be put the ball out for a corner.
On 54 minutes indecision led to another chance but Buchanan’s shot with the outside of his right boot swerved past the post.
The visitors now looked likelier to score and on 58 minutes Bell had to make a fine save at the feet of midfielder Gary Fisher as the visitor’s threw men forward.
At this stage you felt the Fifers would rue the opportunities they failed to take and this proved to be the case on 63 minutes when Shiels made it 2-0 with an excellent goal.
Faure found Little on the edge of the 18-yard box and his superb first-time volley found his countryman who clipped the ball over keeper Greg Paterson and high into the roof of the net. It was an excellent finish from the 28-year-old who was replaced by Robbie Crawford with 12 minutes remaining before being named man of the match.
Rangers, as expected, continued to push forward in the latter stages with Aird coming close from distance and a couple of chances falling to Daly.
It wasn’t to be the Irishman's day and although Rangers can undoubtedly play better than they did this afternoon they probably just edged this contest with Shiels proving the difference.
RANGERS: Bell; Faure, McCulloch, Mohsni, Wallace; Aird, Law, Black, Little; Shiels (Crawford 78), Daly
SUBS: Simonsen, Foster, Cribari, Murdoch, Telfer
GOALS: Shiels 4, 64
EAST FIFE: Paterson, Campbell, Johnstone, Thom, Mbu, Fisher, Brown (Durie 68), Hughes, Buchanan, Henderson (Clarke 72(Barr 79)), Stewart
SUBS: Shaw, Thomson, Stewart, Willis
REF: Don Robertson
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