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Rangers 0 Motherwell 0: McCoist wraps up sorry season Ibrox with Steelmen draw

Rangers 0 Motherwell 0: Sorry Gers wrap up final home game with Steelmen draw

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UPDATED:

14:12 GMT, 5 May 2012

Rangers' final game at Ibrox this season ended in stalemate as they were held to a goalless draw by Motherwell in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.

The club had dedicated the match to the fans – with the number 12 jersey to be retired from next season in honour of the support – but the Light Blues faithful left without the win they craved.

As well as taking a point from this clash, third-placed Motherwell also claim the Champions League spot which has been denied administration-hit Rangers next term.

Stalemate: Neither side could find a way through to seal the three points

Stalemate: Neither side could find a way through to seal the three points

MATCH FACTS

Rangers: McGregor, Bartley, Goian (Perry 30), Bocanegra, Whittaker, Edu, McCabe (Bedoya 66), Ness (Little 66), Wallace, Aluko, McCulloch.

Subs not used: Alexander, Broadfoot, Healy, Mitchell.

Booked: Ness

Motherwell: Randolph, Hateley, Hutchinson, Clancy, Hammell, Humphrey, Jennings, Lasley, Law, Ojamaa (McHugh 84), Murphy.

Subs not used: Hollis, Saunders, Craigan, Daley, Forbes, Carswell.

Booked: Hutchinson

Referee: William Collum (Scotland)

Rangers made one change from the side who thrashed Dundee United 5-0 midweek for the visit of Well.

Salim Kerkar missed out with an ankle
problem and was replaced by Lee McCulloch, who recovered from the knock
that restricted him to a late substitute appearance against United.

Motherwell also made a single change after beating Hearts, with Henrik Ojamaa replacing the injured Michael Higdon.

Rangers had the best of the chances
early on and Sone Aluko set up McCulloch for the shot inside the box in
the opening minutes but his effort was blocked by Tom Hateley.

Kyle Bartley then had a go from the
edge of the area but goalkeeper Darren Randolph was untroubled as the
shot dipped just over the crossbar.

The home side continued to push
forward in search of the opener and McCulloch's cutback was collected by
Aluko but his tame shot was gathered by Randolph.

Rangers were forced to make a change
after just half an hour when Dorin Goian limped off, with what looked
like a knee problem, and was replaced by Ross Perry.

Motherwell then carved out a couple of
half-chances and Ojamaa did well to round goalkeeper Allan McGregor but
opted to play the pass rather than have a shot at goal himself.

Heads up: rangers season is ending with a whimper on the field

Heads up: rangers season is ending with a whimper on the field

Heads up: rangers season is ending with a whimper on the field

With five goals to enjoy on Wednesday
night, Rangers fans grew restless as the home side failed to convert
their superior possession into a goal before the break.

Both teams looked livelier after the
restart and Steven Whittaker tested Randolph, before McGregor was called
into action to block a low shot from Keith Lasley.

Whittaker then attempted to turn provider with a cross for McCulloch but the big utility man nodded wide of target.

Motherwell had a decent chance when
Chris Humphrey burst into the box and tried to set up the shot for Jamie
Murphy in front of goal but Perry managed to clear the danger.

Credit due: McCoist salutes the Rangers fans as McCall encourages his players at Ibrox

Credit due: McCoist salutes the Rangers fans as McCall encourages his players at Ibrox

Credit due: McCoist salutes the Rangers fans as McCall encourages his players at Ibrox

At the other end, Randolph stood tall to block one on one from Lee Wallace.

Rangers made a double change when Andy
Little and Alejandro Bedoya were thrown into the action in place of
Jamie Ness and Rhys McCabe.

The Glasgow giants should have opened
the scoring when Aluko's corner was met by Carlos Bocanegra but Little
inadvertently blocked the header from finding the back of the net.

Maurice Edu pounced on the rebound but Randolph was up to the task again with another fine save.

Rangers claimed for a penalty when
Little went to ground in the box but the pleas were ignored by referee
Willie Collum as the match ended goalless.

Tribute: the Ibrox faithful say thanks to manager Ally McCoist

Tribute: the Ibrox faithful say thanks to manager Ally McCoist

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Rangers 5 Dundee United 0: Five star Gers

Rangers 5 Dundee United 0: Five-star Gers put takeover doubts to one side at Ibrox

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UPDATED:

23:43 GMT, 2 May 2012

They dispatched Dundee United with the minimum of fuss. How Rangers must wish they could dismiss their off-field problems as easily.

After 20 minutes at Ibrox, Ally McCoist’s side were three goals ahead. Steven Whittaker opened the scoring before Sone Aluko struck twice in a clinical opening to the game.

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Game on: Jamie Ness celebrates after scoring Rangers' fourth goal against Dundee United

MATCH FACTS

Rangers: McGregor, Bartley, Goian, Bocanegra, Whittaker, Edu, McCabe, Ness (Broadfoot 61), Wallace, Aluko (Bedoya 75), Kerkar (McCulloch 81).

Subs Not Used: Alexander, Healy, Perry, Mitchell.

Booked: Edu.

Goals: Whittaker 6, Aluko 17, 20,Ness 57, Bedoya 84.

Dundee Utd: Pernis, Neilson, Dillon, Kenneth (Watson 46), Dixon, Flood, Robertson, Rankin, Mackay-Steven (Douglas 46), Daly, Russell (Dow 76).

Subs Not Used: Banks, Ryan, Swanson, Armstrong.

Attendance: 43,383

Referee: Alan Muir

The margin of victory did nothing to dismiss the very real doubts and fears swirling around a windswept old football stadium. It was sufficient, however, to create a degree of confusion. Namely, over which club was supposed to be chasing Champions League football and which was at death’s door.

This was a truly shambolic performance from United. Thanks to this heavy defeat, Motherwell will be representing Scotland in the second qualifying round of Europe’s premier competition and, on the basis of the defending here, Scottish football’s fragile coefficient is in safer hands.

So wretched was his display that Garry Kenneth was hauled from the pitch at half-time alongside Gary Mackay- Steven. In truth, Peter Houston could have hooked all 11 of his players and none could have complained.

Watching it all from the Bill Struth Stand were Brian Kennedy and Paul Murray of the Blue Knights. But rival Bill Miller, who is set to become preferred bidder today, was nowhere to be seen. Yet his spectre hung heavy over the clear Govan sky.

Bullet: Ness scores as Rangers secure second place in the Scottish Premier League

Bullet: Ness scores as Rangers secure second place in the Scottish Premier League

An impassioned plea from Rangers legend Sandy Jardine for fans to desist from divisive and unhelpful protests against the American proved unnecessary.

Such was the way in which Rangers started this game that all minds were focused on the football soon enough.

McCoist had marched his players on to the Ibrox pitch before their pre-match meal and delivered a rousing team talk following Sunday’s Old Firm defeat to Celtic. Irate with the standard of defending, the response to the Ibrox manager’s words were clear to see.

An early goal was sought and Whittaker duly delivered it. Receiving a lay-off from young Rhys McCabe on the right side of the penalty area, the defender simply passed the ball low beyond a static Dusan Pernis.

Protest: Rangers fan had their say at the administrators who are yet to name a preferred bidder

Protest: Rangers fan had their say at the administrators who are yet to name a preferred bidder

The keeper looked slow to react, but replays showed the ball take a wicked curl into the bottom corner.

From there on in, United simply imploded in catastrophic fashion. They were not entirely hapless, but it was a close thing.

Allan McGregor was required to produce a terrific save from a Kenneth free-kick in the opening minutes before the Scotland keeper tipped a rising effort from Mackay-Steven over the bar.

No one could have envisaged what came next. United had already won at Ibrox, knocking Rangers out of the Scottish Cup. With something to play for — more so, at least, than Rangers — they travelled to Govan with decent grounds for optimism.

As soon as they conceded a second goal in 18 minutes, the game was up.

Willo Flood failed to spot Mackay-Steven in acres of space on the left side, surrendering possession.

As Ness thumped the ball up the field, a poor Kenneth defensive header allowed Salim Kerkar to gather and lay the ball into the path of Aluko.

Thumbs up: Rangers boss Ally McCoist watched his side cruise to victory

Thumbs up: Rangers boss Ally McCoist watched his side cruise to victory

The wide man, one of the few bright spots of a torrid period, had but one thought in mind, lowering his head and running at pace at a panicked tangerine defence. Surging past Kenneth, he thumped the ball into the net with his left foot for 2-0.

He was at it again two minutes later, this time on the other side with the other foot. Racing between Kenneth and Scott Robertson at force, Aluko claimed his ninth goal since joining on a free transfer in January.

Speaking in the run-up to the game of the ‘romance’ of Rangers, Aluko expressed a desire to stay. If Kennedy, Miller or whoever grab control, they could do worse than take up the two-year option which would realise the Nigerian international’s wish.

Ending on a high: Ranger's Lee Wallace and Dundee United's Robbie Neilson fight for the ball

Ending on a high: Ranger's Lee Wallace and Dundee United's Robbie Neilson fight for the ball

For Peter Houston in the visiting technical area, all of this made for grim viewing. The mind of the Scotland assistant manager must have drifted back to his first game in charge, a 7-0 defeat at the same venue.

There were times, indeed, when it seemed history might repeat itself. Lee Wallace burst through a ruck of bodies in 33 minutes and produced a fine close-range save from Pernis. A Kerkar header from a Whittaker cross then landed straight into the arms of the Slovakian keeper as Rangers performed with momentum.

The half-time whistle came as a blessed relief for United, but offered no real hope of a reprieve. The arrival of Barry Douglas and Keith Watson improved the visitors, but only marginally.

Aluko could have had a hat-trick when he ghosted past an uncomfortable Paul Dixon and forced Pernis to save at his near post.

Yet few were under any illusion. Rangers looked capable of scoring at will and claimed a fourth in 57 minutes when Ness offered some hope for the future.

As surprised as anyone that he had escaped the concession of a penalty for a handball in the area, Sean Dillon made a mess of his clearance, gifting the ball to Ness on the edge of the box.
It still required a helpful ricochet but, after the misfortune suffered by the midfielder, he was due a break, slamming the ball into the net from 10 yards.

The sight of Bedoya, a largely unloved figure, slotting a superb Maurice Edu through ball into the net said much for how comfortable a night this was for Rangers.

They were entitled to enjoy it. Come this morning it’s back to the grim business of administration and survival.

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Rangers 1 Hearts 2: Hamill cashes in to leave troubled Gers facing the axe

Rangers 1 Hearts 2: Hamill cashes in to leave troubled Gers facing the axe

Hearts claimed a 2-1 victory over
Rangers in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League in what is likely to be
the last time Ally McCoist's team plays together before the
administrators' axe falls.

The Scottish champions took the lead
through skipper Steven Davis before Ian Black levelled and Jamie Hamill
grabbed the winner from the penalty spot.

Brief respite: Steven Davis celebrates his goal for Rangers

Brief respite: Steven Davis celebrates his goal for Rangers

MATCH FACTS

Rangers: McGregor, Perry, Goian, Bocanegra, Wallace, Aluko (Celik 65), McCabe, Davis, Kerkar, McCulloch, Little. Subs Not Used: Alexander, Healy, Bedoya, Wylde, Hemmings, Mitchell.

Booked: Goian, Bocanegra, McCulloch, Davis.

Goals: Davis 45.

Hearts: MacDonald, Hamill, Zaliukas, Webster, Grainger, Barr (Beattie 46), Robinson, Black (Taouil 73), Mrowiec, Driver, Glen (McGowan 84). Subs Not Used: Ridgers, Skacel, Morton, Holt.

Booked: Barr.

Goals: Black 58, Hamill 79.

Att: 47,276

Ref: Crawford Allan (Scotland).

Administrators Duff and Phelps are set to announce player redundancies early next week following several days of discussions with McCoist and PFA Scotland.

Rangers made two changes from the side who defeated Inverness last week for the clash against Hearts.

Maurice Edu was suspended and Kirk Broadfoot missed out with a knee injury, paving the way for Rhys McCabe to make his competitive debut, while Lee Wallace returned from injury to start against his former club.

Hearts were boosted by the return of Andy Webster from suspension, while Andrew Driver, Gary Glen and Adrian Mrowiec also started at Ibrox.

Rangers were boosted by another packed house after another difficult week off the park and they had the best of the chances in the opening spell.

Dorin Goian tried his luck early on, after the ball broke to him from a Sone Aluko corner, but his effort was tame and easily smothered by goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald.

Hot shot: Hearts' Ian Black scores his side's first goal

Hot shot: Hearts' Ian Black scores his side's first goal

Heart of Midlothian's Ian Black celebrates scoring his sides first goal

McCabe then attempted to mark his senior team bow with a goal with a shot from distance that was also gathered by the goalkeeper.

After those early opportunities, chances were few and far between for both sides.

The only real incident of note was the first yellow card of the game issued by referee Crawford Allan to Darren Barr for a foul on Davis after 37 minutes.

But Rangers could have grabbed the opener just before the break when Aluko's pass found Salim Kerkar and he squared for Andy Little only for MacDonald to just manage to tip wide from the striker.

Tough times: Rangers boss Ally McCoist

Tough times: Rangers boss Ally McCoist

The breakthrough came on the half-time whistle when Davis met Little's cutback with a low strike into the back of the net.

Craig Beattie was handed his Hearts debut when he was thrown into the action in place of Barr for the second half.

Rangers then almost added to their lead when Carlos Bocanegra threw himself in front of McCabe's cross only to see his header flash wide.

Winner: Rangers' Allan McGregor is beaten to the rebound by Jamie Hamill

Winner: Rangers' Allan McGregor is beaten to the rebound by Jamie Hamill

The American defender came to the rescue at the other end when he nodded a Scott Robinson header off the line.

But the ball broke for Black to rifle into the back of the net from 20 yards to claim the equaliser after 58 minutes.

Rangers tried to haul themselves back into the game and Lee McCulloch claimed he was fouled in the box but there was no penalty award from the referee.

Allan did point to the spot at the other end when he ruled Goian fouled Webster and the Romanian was cautioned.

The match official then appeared to flash his yellow card at both Bocanegra and Goian for dissent but without showing a subsequent red card.

After the confusion, Hamill saw his initial attempt from the penalty spot blocked by Allan McGregor before firing home the rebound after 76 minutes to claim victory.

Inverness CT 1 Rangers 4: First win since administration

Inverness CT 1 Rangers 4: Gers get first win since administration to lift the mood

It won’t brighten the bigger picture or soothe any of the painful announcements still to come.

Yet, in what might well be a last hurrah for some, the Rangers players summoned a display full of pride and bloody-minded defiance to win a football match in thoroughly convincing fashion.

After 13 days of unremitting gloom and misery, here were a couple of hours that their suffering supporters could at least enjoy to the full. For Ally McCoist’s squad, it was also a brief interlude in which they held the power to determine the outcome.

The question now, of course, is whether all those involved in thumping a feeble Inverness – and many more in the back offices of the club – will still be under employment when the Ibrox club host Hearts on Saturday afternoon.

Back in the groove: Sone Aluko (right) celebrates scoring Rangers' second alongside fellow scorer Steven Davis

Back in the groove: Sone Aluko (right) celebrates scoring Rangers' second alongside fellow scorer Steven Davis

MATCH FACTS

Inverness CT: Esson, Graeme Shinnie, Gillet, Williams, Meekings, Hayes, McKay, Tansey, Ross, Tade, Foran.

Subs: Tuffey, Tokely, Tudur Jones, Proctor, Sutherland, Winnall, Gnakpa.

Rangers: McGregor, Perry, Goian, Bocanegra, Broadfoot, Aluko, Davis, Edu, McCulloch, Little, Kerkar.

Subs: Alexander, Healy, Bedoya, Celik, Wylde, Hemmings, McCabe.

Referee: William Collum

That will be down to the gentlemen of
Duff & Phelps as they consider what must happen next in the process.
Certainly, though, the next 72 hours have an uneasy look about them
after joint-administrator Paul Clark was quoted on Sunday as saying
there will be cuts in the coming week.

Last Thursday, the Rangers players and staff were paid their February
wages in full. But it is now almost March. The new month dawns this
Thursday and there would seem a bleak logic about making serious
staffing considerations before people do work for which they might not
be paid.

There is also the further issue of what criteria could be used to
determine who stays and goes from McCoist’s squad. Despite their high
earnings, it would seem unthinkable for the likes of Steven Davis – who
opened the scoring on Sunday – for Allan McGregor to be axed when they
could earn worthwhile transfer fees in a few months’ time.

But what of the others who found the net in the Highlands

Sone Aluko is
out of contract at the end of the season, albeit with Rangers holding a
two-year option. Youngster Andrew Little could either be viewed as
expendable or cost-effective, while Lee McCulloch still has 15 months
remaining on a well-paid deal.

Those ugly decisions look set to be made soon, but Sunday provided a
temporary reprieve from the whirlwind of relentless negativity. With
visiting fans making up around half of the 6,416 crowd inside the
Caledonian Stadium, they were rewarded by a performance that would have
secured three points even if Inverness had not been quite so dire.

It was an outcome that punctured some of the pre-match predictions.
Indeed, the 4-1 on offer for Terry Butcher’s men at the stadium
bookmakers caught the eye of more than a few locals as they rolled into
the ground before kick-off. Their belief that money could be made was
heightened when the Rangers team was read out to reveal the unlikely
attacking pairing of McCulloch and Little – with further starting roles
for fringe men Salim Kerkar and Ross Perry.

With their opponents haunted by the fear of the axe and depleted by
extensive injuries, it seemed the ideal opportunity for Caley Thistle to
record their first home win over the SPL champions since December 2006.

There were early flickers to give hope to the Highlanders who had parted
with their cash as Gregory Tade menaced Rangers right-back Perry
without ever supplying a final ball of quality.

Consolation: Steve Williams scores Inverness' goal

Consolation: Steve Williams scores Inverness' goal

But it was a brief glimmer. Instead, they were left counting their
losses from just the sixth minute as McCoist’s side swept forward to
open the scoring.

A series of swift passes led to Maurice Edu feeding the ball neatly out
to Kerkar. He could have chosen to drive at goal off his left foot, but
rather delivered a little dinked cross that was smartly turned into the
net by the onrushing Davis. It was perhaps fitting that the captain, a
leader of the dressing room in their talks with PFA Scotland, should
score Rangers’ first goals since the plunge into administration.

Billy McKay flashed an attempt at an instant reply across McGregor, but
the home side really should have been 2-0 down after 14 minutes.

Some nimble link play allowed Davis to gather possession on the left
fringe of the penalty area before scooping a cross to Aluko in acres of
space just beyond the far post. It’s fair to say, however, that aerial
prowess is not high in the armoury of the skilful Nigerian winger, who
could only nod into the side-netting.

As it was, though, that miss only delayed a doubling of Rangers’ advantage for a couple of minutes.
Little rolled Graeme Shinnie to charge down the right flank and thump in
a low cross just as the toiling defender got back to challenge. Kenny
Gillet blocked McCulloch on the six-yard line but the ball broke for
Aluko to coolly pick his spot inside Ryan Esson’s right-hand post.

Three and easy: Andrew Little slots home

Three and easy: Andrew Little slots home

McGregor had to react smartly to block a Greg Tansey effort but,
remarkably, the Ibrox men cantered up the pitch to make it 3-0 nine
minutes before the break.

Kerkar produced the pass of the half to send Little clear in the inside
left channel, with the young Northern Ireland international planting an
angled shot beyond Esson for just his second goal for Rangers.

There was still time for Inverness to salvage some pride before the
interval as Steve Williams converted from Tansey’s corner, but this had
been a bruising 45 minutes for Butcher’s men. Not for the first time
this term, the volume of the dressing-room ranting would have been
ear-splitting.

Only a great Dorin Goian block prevented Inverness from clawing one back
just after the restart but there was never any real sense of a
remarkable resurrection developing.

Goal-line heroics from Shinnie and Esson denied Edu and Davis at the
opposite end before Rangers claimed their fourth in the 73rd minute.
Kerkar twisted to poke in an angled shot that was blocked by Esson but
netted on the rebound by McCulloch.

There was still time for the same player to shudder the underside of the
bar with a fierce strike before the final whistle drew Rangers players
and fans together in applause. What happens next is out of their hands.

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Inverness CT 0 Rangers 1:

Inverness CT 1 Rangers 4: Gers get first win since administration to lift the mood

Rangers gave their supporters some much-needed cheer with an emphatic victory at Inverness to secure their first Clydesdale Bank Premier League points since going into administration.

Goals from Steven Davis and Sone Aluko put Rangers two ahead inside 16 minutes and Andrew Little justified his selection up front with a composed finish.

Steve Williams headed one back before the break but the champions remained in control and Lee McCulloch netted an opportunistic fourth from his striker's role.

Back in the groove: Sone Aluko (right) celebrates scoring Rangers' second alongside fellow scorer Steven Davis

Back in the groove: Sone Aluko (right) celebrates scoring Rangers' second alongside fellow scorer Steven Davis

MATCH FACTS

Inverness CT: Esson, Graeme Shinnie, Gillet, Williams, Meekings, Hayes, McKay, Tansey, Ross, Tade, Foran.

Subs: Tuffey, Tokely, Tudur Jones, Proctor, Sutherland, Winnall, Gnakpa.

Rangers: McGregor, Perry, Goian, Bocanegra, Broadfoot, Aluko, Davis, Edu, McCulloch, Little, Kerkar.

Subs: Alexander, Healy, Bedoya, Celik, Wylde, Hemmings, McCabe.

Referee: William Collum

Rangers fans have endured worrying revelations about the club's financial affairs on an almost daily basis since they went into administration on Valentine's Day and the first opportunity for the players to deliver a positive distraction from the crisis ended in a 1-0 defeat by Kilmarnock last Saturday.

The players came into this game knowing there is a real possibility some of them may lose their jobs in the coming week as administrators prepare to review staffing across the club.

But they produced a highly-professional display with a real cutting edge to send the buoyant away fans home happy.
Manager Ally McCoist was forced into a more inexperienced starting line-up after losing Sasa Papac to suspension and Lee Wallace to injury, the left-back joining Steven Whittaker, Kyle Lafferty and Kyle Bartley in the treatment room.

Ross Perry and Salim Kerkar came in for rare starts while Little was preferred to David Healy as he made a first SPL start of the season.

All three acquitted themselves well with Kerkar having a major hand in three of the goals and Perry producing a solid display at right-back.

Inverness welcomed back Gregory Tade from injury with fellow striker Billy McKay also coming in and they made a bright start but Davis scored in the sixth minute with the visitors' first attack.

The Rangers captain began the move before Maurice Edu stretched the home defence with a pass out to Kerkar. The winger played a low ball into the six-yard box and Davis got there first to sidefoot home.

Inverness quickly got in behind the Rangers defence when McKay ran on to Richie Foran's pass. The forward beat Perry inside the box but drove the ball across the face of goal when he had several team-mates awaiting a cutback.

Aluko missed the target with a free header from six yards after Davis had found him at the back post but the winger soon atoned as Rangers went two ahead. The former Aberdeen player fired just inside the post from 18 yards after McCulloch had laid off Little's low cross from the right.

Inverness manager Terry Butcher moved from the stand to the touchline in a bid to sort out his side and Greg Tansey twice threatened from long range, driving just wide before forcing Allan McGregor into a save with a powerful effort the Rangers goalkeeper beat away.

But Edu and Davis were cutting out most of the Inverness attacks before they could reach the penalty box and Rangers moved three ahead with a 36th-minute counter-attack.

Kerkar collected the ball on the left wing and played it through for Little, who got away from the chasing defenders and took his time before finishing from a tight angle with his left foot.

Inverness gave themselves a lifeline four minutes later when Williams rose highest to head home Tansey's inswinging corner from close range. Rangers had disputed the corner award after Tansey's previous effort failed to clear the near post with referee Willie Collum ruling a Rangers player had helped it out.

Tade had a half chance following another Tansey set-piece but he volleyed well over with the last kick of the half.

The striker had a better chance moments after the break after Jonny Hayes got away from Kirk Broadfoot on the right wing and delivered an excellent low cross.

However, Dorin Goian made a crucial intervention as Tade tried to convert from six yards, the Romanian diverting the ball inches wide of McGregor's near post.

Rangers came close to a fourth amid a series of corners, Nick Ross clearing Edu's header off the line before Ryan Esson pushed Davis's follow-up wide.

Esson then saved from Aluko after the winger had held off Graeme Shinnie after running on to Edu's pass.

Caley Thistle moved from a 4-5-1 formation to a 4-4-2 but they were making few inroads as Rangers pressed them high up the park to maintain their territorial advantage.

Kerkar was heavily involved again as Rangers moved further ahead in the 72nd minute. The Algerian worked space to fire an angled drive, which Esson could not hold, and McCulloch ran in to tap home the rebound.

McGregor made a good stop after Tade helped on Hayes' cross but Rangers were otherwise comfortable and McCoist handed game time to Gregg Wylde, Kane Hemmings and Mervan Celik.

McCulloch almost added another when his powerful strike from 15 yards hit the underside of the bar and bounced down off the line following Wylde's corner.

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Rangers 2 Inverness 1: Sub Lafferty keeps his nerve to keep Gers on a roll

Rangers 2 Inverness 1: Sub Lafferty keeps his nerve to keep Gers on a roll

A dramatic late strike by substitute Kyle Lafferty gave Rangers an undeserved victory against Inverness to take them seven points clear of Celtic at the top of the Clydesdale BankPremier League.

When Light Blues defender Carlos Bocanegra shot the home side into the lead in the 55th minute it looked like they would go and make the result more comfortable.

Super sub: Kyle Lafferty slots home the winning goal

Super sub: Kyle Lafferty slots home the winning goal

MATCH FACTS

Rangers: McGregor, Whittaker, Bartley, Bocanegra, Wallace, Edu, Papac, Bedoya, Davis, Wylde, Jelavic.

Subs: Alexander, Broadfoot, McCulloch, Lafferty, McKay, Bendiksen, McCabe.

Inverness CT: Esson, Gillet, Tokely, Golobart, Graeme Shinnie, Cox, Foran, Hayes, Tansey, Tade, McKay.

Subs: Tuffey, Piermayr, Andrew Shinnie, Ross, Morrison, Sutherland.

Referee: Bobby Madden (Scotland)

However, the Highlanders fought back ferociously and former Rangers midfielder Andrew Shinnie, on as substitute for Greg Tansey, levelled before they missed several good chances to grab an unlikely win.

They were made to pay in the cruellest fashion when Lafferty, on for Alejandro Bedoya early in the second half, struck with eight minutes remaining to ease the nerves and increase the gap over their Old Firm rivals who play at St Johnstone tomorrow.

Rangers have been unconvincing in recent weeks and their fans will have left Ibrox aware that they were let off the hook.

Bedoya and defender Sasa Papac came into the Rangers side at the expense of Dorin Goian, who failed to recover from a fever and Lee McCulloch, who started on the bench along with striker Lafferty who returned from a back injury.

Caley boss Terry Butcher made three changes with Lee Cox, Gregory Tade and Graeme Shinnie coming in for injured Chris Hogg, suspended David Davis and Andrew Shinnie, who was named substitute. The Highlanders took the spoils in the first half with an impressive display.

Two easy: Lafferty celebrates his winner

Two easy: Lafferty celebrates his winner

It was a slow, unconvincing start by the home side and in the third minute Caley midfielder Cox stole into the Rangers box but failed to catch his shot properly, the ball spinning harmlessly wide.

Inverness midfielder Tansey then had a shot blocked by Ibrox defender Kyle Bartley.

In the 10th minute the Light Blues threatened for the first time and Caley keeper Ryan Esson made a terrific save to deny defender Steven Whittaker, who met a Gregg Wylde cross from eight yards out to power a header down towards the bottom corner.

There was not a great deal of creativity from the Ibrox men which began to irk the home support as they surveyed another possible afternoon of frustration.

Spring time: Rangers manager Ally McCoist tries out his Villas-Boas impression

Spring time: Rangers manager Ally McCoist tries out his Villas-Boas impression

The home side”s corner count slowly mounted, though and in the 28th minute top scorer Nikica Jelavic headed Wylde”s corner from the right over the bar but still the Highlanders refused to be cowed.

After Papac was robbed by Tansey, Cox went down the right and drove the ball across the box and the home fans were glad to see Bartley clear the danger.

In the 36th minute there was a strong Caley appeal for a penalty when Richie Foran”s header looked like it might have struck the arm of Jelavic in the Rangers box but referee Bobby Madden was unimpressed.

Jelavic had to stretch at the back post to reach a searching Wylde cross from the left but the ball fell into the arms of Esson.

McCulloch replaced Maurice Edu for the start of the second half and within three minutes Bedoya and Jelavic got into a tangle as they attacked a Lee Wallace cross and the chance was gone.

Caley striker William McKay claimed he was held by Bartley as he turned the Rangers defender inside the penalty box but again referee Madden shook his head, leaving McKay in a rage as Gers keeper Allan McGregor picked up the loose ball.

Lafferty came on for the injured Bedoya in the 52nd minute and the home side stepped up the pace which brought its reward three minutes later.

When Wallace crossed into the box Jelavic chested down for defender Bocanegra to slam the ball in from close range.

On the hour mark Lafferty escaped the attention of the Caley defence to go through on Esson but the Northern Ireland international slipped his side-footed shot past the far post.

The champions were in total control and in the 63rd minute Papac sent a spectacular drive from 30 yards crashing off the Caley bar.

But in the 67th minute there was a shock for the home side when Tade raced down the left and cut the ball back for substitute Andrew Shinnie and the former Rangers player side-footed the ball past McGregor from eight yards.

The Ibrox fans booed because Jelavic was down injured after a tackle by Roman Golobart in the lead-up to the leveller.

In the 70th minute Foran had the ball in the net from an Andrew Shinnie free-kick but the flag was up for offside.

In the 77th minute McKay rounded McGregor and from an acute angle struck the post.

Caley”s Jonny Hayes went round McGregor and had a close-range shot cleared off the line by Wallace, before McGregor had to save from McKay with the home defence in disarray.

But in the 82nd minute, and against the run of play, Lafferty ran onto a Steven Davis pass and knocked the ball past Esson.