Rangers enjoy journey but route to top could end in a road block

RANGERS have now gone full circle in their remarkable journey in the bottom tier of Scotland's senior leagues.

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Francisco Sandaza celebrated his second goal in Rangers colours against Peterhead
Francisco Sandaza celebrated his second goal in Rangers colours against Peterhead

Their travels took them to Peterhead, the venue for their first game in the Irn-Bru Third Division back in August, once again yesterday.

And a 1-0 victory that restored their 19-point lead over Queen's Park at the top of the table was just reward for their exertions.

The day club captain Lee McCulloch gets his hands on the league trophy drew ever nearer with the accumulation of yet another three points.

But whether Rangers find themselves back where they started after he does is now, more than any other matter for the Ibrox club, a concern.

Changing the current 12-10-10-10 set-up to a 12-12-18 structure in time for the start of the 2013/14 campaign would leave them back at square one.

Advocates of the change, currently under consideration by SFL and SPL clubs, argue that it will not alter the length of time it takes the fallen Glasgow giants to return to the top flight.

Perhaps. But those who made the long and – given the forecast of adverse weather conditions – potentially treacherous trek to Balmoor Stadium will not concur.

Being forced to return to this far-flung outpost of the beautiful game once again next season will, as much as they enjoyed their weekend, rankle Light Blue fans.

For the Gers players, who once again underlined their ability to handle the unique demands of football at this level, it will be soul-destroying to be denied promotion.

Ally McCoist's team met with exactly the same sort of stubborn resistance from their adversaries as they did on their previous visit to Balmoor five months ago.

From the moment Ryan McCann took David Templeton's legs from underneath him – a foul that earned him a booking from referee Mike Tumilty – it was obvious they were in for a game.

The fact Tumilty brandished five yellow cards in total, and a red for striker Rory McAllister in the second half, during the 90 minutes told its own story.

Yet, unlike on their last trip to the north-east fishing town, when they came from behind to earn a fortuitous 2-2 draw, Gers coped with that admirably.

"They are handling this division a lot better," said McCoist. "The results we are getting away from home are based on a solidity and resilience, especially defensively, that was not there before.

"We were a lot better than we were on the opening day of the season. I am delighted with the progress that is being made. The players deserve an awful lot of credit.

"I think the team has got tougher this season. The first game of the term against Peterhead was a shock to them. They had to get tougher to survive.

"Our two centre-backs (Emilson Cribari and Ross Perry) handled the natural aggression and enthusiasm of their forward line fantastically well.

"It is only a minute step in where we have to go. There is still plenty of work to be done in terms of going on to win the league. That is obviously still the target."

The narrowness of the scoreline was testimony to the tenacity of Jim McInally's team; they do not occupy a Third Division play-off spot for no reason.

But the closeness of the game was also due in a large part to the slack finishing of the Rangers players. The visitors passed up a raft of fine scoring opportunities.

Templeton, the winger who has often been openly critical of his standard of play in front of goal this season, was the chief culprit in the second half.

"We have to be more clinical," admitted McCoist.

"We will have to work on our finishing. It is as simple as that. We have to put things right we are not happy with and that is one of them."

There was nothing wrong with Francisco Sandaza's play in that area. The Spaniard ended his scoring drought with the only goal of the game on the half-hour mark.

Peterhead keeper Graeme Smith failed to hold a powerful Lee Wallace drive from the edge of the penalty box and the striker pounced and netted.

Sandaza, who spent three months out injured last year with a broken cheekbone that nearly cost him an eye, may have suffered a broken nose.

However, McCoist is optimistic the player's first strike since back in August, and only his second since joining Rangers in the summer, will lift him.

"I am hopeful the goal will give him confidence," he stated.

"I was delighted for him. I think he deserved it for all the work he has put in. I hope he goes on and scores a fair few more."

Ian Black was removed from the field in the second half after, as seems to the Rangers midfielder's lot these days, being subjected to a few over-the-top challenges.

Manager McCoist, though, was unconcerned.

His team, too, are no longer fazed by the treatment they receive from their part-time rivals when they take to the field.

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