Neil Alexander: 19-point lead is a dream but let's finish this job ASAP

IT is said that nothing is won at this stage of the season.

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Rangers goalkeeper Neil Alexander believes his team are finding the right balance between free-flowing football and gritty displays
Rangers goalkeeper Neil Alexander believes his team are finding the right balance between free-flowing football and gritty displays

This campaign is proving otherwise, however.

Like their counterparts at Celtic and Queen of the South, the question for Rangers is when, not if, they get their hands on the silverware.

The New Year may be less than a month old but the ribbons should already be tied to three of Scottish football's top prizes and the champagne delivered to Ibrox, Parkhead and Palmerston.

While Celtic extended their lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League to 12 points on Tuesday night, the gap is even bigger in the Irn-Bru Football Leagues, where Queens and the Gers hold massive 19-point advantages over teams that can hardly now be described as their title rivals.

Ally McCoist's side were, of course, always going to be huge favourites to lift the silverware in their maiden season in our bottom tier but now that they have cruised into the lead, there are few challenges remaining.

A Scottish Cup fifth round tie at Tannadice stands out on the fixture list for the Gers but matches against Montrose on Saturday at Ibrox and then trips to Clyde, Berwick and Stirling Albion will ultimately hold little relevance in the final Third Division standings.

That will not stop McCoist's men from trying, however, with the pressure from the stands and professional pride ensuring they still have targets to meet.

"We have got a group of games coming up where we have got a good chance of taking maximum points and hopefully extending our lead at the top," Ibrox keeper Neil Alexander said.

"We are absolutely delighted with the 19 points that we are clear but we are taking nothing for granted yet, there is still a bit of work to do.

"The boys are fully focused on getting the job done as soon as possible."

Rangers' latest stop on the road to title glory came at Peterhead on Sunday, with a solitary strike from Spaniard Fran Sandaza enough to add another three points to their impressive tally.

It was at Balmoor where the Light Blues were first exposed to the rigours of Third Division football and while they may have learned to win on the road, there has been little panache to their play.

The Gers have been effective more than effervescent in recent weeks and Alexander is keen to strike a balance between battling and free-flowing football.

He said: "We knew it was going to be physical after the first match of the season where we were given a real wake-up call as to what life was going to be like in SFL3.

"We knew it was going to be a tough game last weekend and the weather conditions were suitable for them, it was cold and it wasn't really attractive to go there and play.

"But the pitch was fantastic, which gave us a great level platform to go and try and get the ball down and pass it and try and play some attractive football, which we have not been doing of late.

"We struggled at times but the main thing is when you look back in the record that it is three points for Rangers."

Rangers may be well on course to winning the war and claiming the Third Division crown but the individual battles are often leaving them scarred.

A number of Gers stars have found themselves on the end of rash challenges this season as teams use brute force to try and halt McCoist's side in their tracks.

Alexander and midfielder Ian Black have previously criticised the treatment dished out to the Light Blues and the Ibrox keeper admits they must learn to live with the harsh reality of life in our bottom tier.

"There are a few meaty challenges going in but you expect that," he said.

"We are getting used to that in Division Three. Teams just try and kick us off the park at times.

"But, as I say, you have just got to stand up and roll your sleeves up and just get on with it and not react.

"The standard of referees is slightly different to the SPL so you have just got to roll up your sleeves, turn your back and get on with it. Sometimes it is a compliment.

"If you are getting beaten and you are chasing the ball, that is all teams can do to try and get at you. Sometimes you can take it as a compliment and just get on with it."

While Alexander would have departed Balmoor satisfied with his day's work and with another clean sheet to his credit, it was a day to remember for his team-mate at the opposite end of the field as Sandaza emerged as the Rangers hero.

The striker has endured a frustrating season since moving to Ibrox in the summer, with his weekend winner a rare highlight as he netted only his second Rangers goal.

With captain Lee McCulloch nearing a return to action from an ankle injury, the former Dundee United and St Johnstone star could face competition for his starting jersey sooner rather than later but Alexander is confident Sandaza can thrive under the pressure.

"I think all the boys are delighted for him," he told Rangers TV.

"They can see how hard he is working.

"He had done everything apart from score. He is a good lad, he works hard but he was just missing that goal.

"I think as a striker goals breed confidence and his confidence was maybe a wee bit low of late.Hopefully that has given him a right good pick up and we have still got the best of Fran to see in the future."

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