Kilmarnock 0 Rangers 2
Kris Boyd once again identified himself as the answer to Rangers’ goalscoring needs by helping himself to his 16th goal of the season against former club Kilmarnock in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.
The striker netted from the penalty spot to seal the win after Carlos Cuellar had set the ball rolling at Rugby Park, with the victory allowing Rangers to restore their four-point lead over Celtic at the top of the SPL.
Rangers are badly in need of goals to keep their European dream alive following a drab goalless draw against Panathinaikos in the UEFA Cup in midweek, but only time will tell if Boyd will be given the nod for Thursday’s return leg in Athens.
Walter Smith opted for Lee McCulloch as the sole striker at Ibrox against the Greek side and was criticised for being overly cautious. And, regardless of any sympathy he may have for the plight of Kilmarnock and their boss Jim Jefferies, he made it clear he was going for goals today.
Boyd and Jean-Claude Darcheville were the preferred strike partnership, while the introduction of Chris Burke provided pace on the right flank.
Darcheville was back following his European ban, while Boyd’s inclusion against his former club provided another opportunity for the club’s top goalscorer to show he deserves a regular starting berth.
Darcheville should have scored in the opening minutes. Boyd’s flick-on released the striker through on goal with only Alan Combe to beat but Darcheville somehow contrived to lob over both the Kilmarnock goalkeeper and the crossbar with the gaping goal at his mercy.
The expected onslaught failed to materialise and Killie recovered sufficiently to carve out a real chance of their own.
Craig Bryson dinked past several players before having a go with a right-footer from the edge of the box. Allan McGregor appeared beaten in the Rangers goal but the shot whistled inches wide of the target.
Kilmarnock then produced some of their best football in weeks but failed to capitalise on their hard work and found themselves trailing with 24 minutes gone.
Burke punted a corner into the congested goalmouth and Boyd and Barry Ferguson both assisted with their heads to set up Cuellar, who nodded across goal and into the back of the net to claim his fifth goal of the season.
The home side could have restored parity within a few minutes. A Simon Ford header left McGregor stranded and the Rangers goalkeeper could only look on in relief as the effort drifted onto the roof of the net.
Rangers should have claimed a second before the break but Darcheville was profligate again. He collected a long ball from Cuellar and nodded past Ford before charging into the box, only to screw his effort across the face of goal and wide.
Boyd was the main tormentor after the restart. He peeled off Jamie Hamill to glance Brahim Hemdani’s free-kick wide, before seeing a set-piece of his own turned past the post by Combe.
Allan Johnston then saw his volley cleared off the line by Sasa Papac at the other end before Boyd finally added his name to the scoresheet.
Hamill handled McCulloch’s cross and referee Mike McCurry immediately pointed to the spot. Boyd stepped up to lash the resultant penalty high into the net with 62 minutes gone.
Frazer Wright and McGregor became embroiled in an altercation following a challenge on the Rangers goalkeeper but both escaped unpunished following a lecture from the referee.
McGregor was then fortunate not to pluck the ball out of the back of his net in the final minutes of the game.
Substitute David Fernandez had the chance to set up a late fightback from the home side only to drag his shot across the goalmouth as Rangers held on for the win and claimed yet another clean sheet in the SPL.