Blues move through the years to brighter future after darkness

ANOTHER year, the 141st in their history, now stretches out in front of Rangers with a raft of possibilities.

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David Templeton opened the scoring for Rangers at Annan
David Templeton opened the scoring for Rangers at Annan

What the coming 12 months hold are as yet uncertain. However, some predictions for 2013 can be made with complete conviction.

Firstly, Rangers will win the Irn-Bru Third Division – and comfortably at that. And, secondly, those associated with the Ibrox club will not experience any of the anguish, despair and heartache that they did in their annus horribilis, 2012.

Since Rangers were founded way back in 1872, there has not been a year as wretched as the one that just passed. Matters can only improve, both on and off the field, in the short and long-term future.

Certainly, there were further signs in Dumfries and Galloway, at a venue they drew 0-0 at in September, yesterday that definite progress is being made on the park.

The 3-1 win over tiny Annan Athletic at Galabank has extended their lead over their nearest challengers at the top of the league table to 17 points. It is now simply a question of when, and by how much, they will clinch the title.

David Templeton returned to the ground where he had sustained ankle-ligament damage in only his second appearance for Rangers.

The forward could have been forgiven for having reservations about playing on the artificial surface where he suffered such a serious injury.

But if he had any trepidation it did not show. He opened the scoring in 26 minutes with a cross that eluded the clutches of Alex Mitchell and drifted in.

Francisco Sandaza should have added to his side's tally shortly afterwards when Templeton swung a corner into the Annan penalty box. With an empty net beckoning invitingly in front of him, the Spaniard's downward header hit the ground, bounced up and struck the crossbar.

There are another 362 days of 2013 to go. There may not be a more glaring miss in any of them. To be fair to Sandaza, who only returned to the first team last month after a lengthy injury lay-off, he did not let it affect him.

Playing in the lone striker position normally occupied by Lee McCulloch – the club captain was ruled out injured – he harried the opposition defence relentlessly for the entire 90 minutes. Goals will assuredly come.

Annan drew level in 36 minutes with a slice of outrageous good fortune, an effort that was virtually a carbon copy of the one the visitors had netted earlier.

Ally Love's cross from wide on the left sailed beyond Neil Alexander in the Rangers goal and into the top right corner of the net.

But it was no more than the home team, who had given their illustrious adversaries more than a few nervous moments at the back, deserved.

Rangers' hopes of edging ahead suffered a setback early in the second half when right back Darren Cole was stretchered off injured. He was replaced by Sebastien Faure.

Robbie Crawford, who enjoyed perhaps his finest game in a Light Blue jersey, calmed the nerves of the travelling support in 63 minutes with a composed finish.

And Templeton sewed up another three points for Ally McCoist's side late on when his long-range shot was unwittingly deflected into his own goal by Harry Monaghan.

The fact that the triumph was achieved with so many key players absent and so many kids involved delighted Gers assistant Kenny McDowall.

"It was a great result," he said. "The game was played at a difficult venue in difficult conditions. The boys who came in did extremely well.

"We have been through a hell of a schedule in December. We had seven matches and it has been demanding for us. We are carrying knocks.

"We had 10 youth players who have come through the ranks in the squad yesterday and seven of them played. They have all got great ability.

"It has taken them a while to learn how to compete in this division. But they are now doing that and we are winning games because of that."

The January transfer window has opened and there has already been speculation about who Gers will sign on pre-contract agreements.

Players who are are out of contract in the summer are available to speak to the Govan club despite the 12-month transfer embargo that has been imposed on them.

But McDowall cautioned: "We are trying to win a division here and that is of paramount importance. We must concentrate on that. If other stuff happens then it will happen."

Of course, worse events have befallen the Glasgow club during its long existence than those which transpired in 2012. Far, far worse.

Any sporting or financial misfortunes are utterly trivial in comparison with the Ibrox Disaster of 1971 in which 66 people lost their lives on Stairway 13.

The 42nd anniversary of that terrible tragedy was yesterday and it was fitting that the announcer at Annan took the time to urge a moment of quiet contemplation at half-time.

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