Football: Rangers stutter to tense victory

Rangers 2 St Johnstone 1: Scottish League Cup final: Ibrox's ne w Dutch coach is given his first taste of success
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The Independent Online
RANGERS DELIVERED for their supporters the first trophy of the season, giving Dick Advocaat a winning start to his coaching reign. However, the Ibrox side were made to work hard for their League Cup win by a St Johnstone team that made a much better fist of things than in the recent 7-0 defeat to yesterday's opponents.

Like Wim Jansen at Celtic last season, Advocaat, a newcomer to the Scottish game, has led his side to early success and, while the League title is a trophy the fans want most to see at Ibrox, this win will cheer them as they enter the winter following a barren season.

Rangers' goals had a European flavour to them with Stephane Guivarc'h, the Frenchman, and Jorg Albertz, the German, delivering the finishes to fine moves. As early as the sixth minute Rangers were ahead. Sergio Porrini played the ball down the line to Andrei Kanchelskis, whose pace took him away from Gary Bollan. The cut back from the Ukrainian was perfect, Guivarc'h was unmarked and his powerful shot flew past Alan Main.

At that stage every St Johnstone player and supporter must have had fears of another drubbing - but Saints proved perhaps that they had learned from their mauling at the hands of Rangers as within a minute they were level.

A Paul Kane free-kick was headed on by Alan Kernaghan to Nick Dasovic, who fired the ball into the top corner. It was a fine strike from the Canadian and one which lifted the hearts of the Perth men.

Philip Scott then fired a long range shot which held little danger for Antti Niemi, the Rangers goalkeeper, but gradually the game shifted towards the St Johnstone goal, as Sandy Clark's men began to sit in looking for an escape route through George O'Boyle and Miguel Simao.

Kanchelskis found space to operate on the right and the strong-running Arthur Numan performed well on the left, making it seem inevitable another goal would come.

It duly arrived in the 36th minute. A through ball was left by Albertz, who turned and accepted a pass from Guivarc'h before driving his shot into the bottom corner. The move leading up to the goal once again demonstrated the fluid nature of Rangers' play since Advocaat arrived. Although his side operated a 4-4-2 formation, his players had freedom to move and to express themselves. The end result is a team and particularly a strike force which is difficult to mark.

St Johnstone rallied in the second half, particularly with Kane and Scott beginning to dictate play although their forwards found it difficult to find space.

Rod Wallace had two shots charged down in the 61st minute and Giovanni van Bronckhorst shot wide from long range as Rangers began to operate more on the break. They came close to a third goal with 10 minutes remaining when a short corner was played to the unmarked Kanchelskis whose powerful drive from 18 yards was acrobatically pushed over by Main.

Darren Dods had a final and forlorn chance for St Johnstone, who had to accept once again defeat in a Cup competition. The Perth club has never won a major trophy in its 114- year history and, although the supporters would have enjoyed the day out, they would have enjoyed it a lot more had their been an end result.

Rangers will take this result into the next part of their season with both the League and the Uefa Cup in mind and although there is no European reward at the end these days for the League Cup winners, the win will give them a huge lift.

Advocaat said: "I felt no pressure to win, I don't know why. Walter Smith did a great job for Rangers, but that is the past, and it's not counting any more.

"We had problems building up from the back and giving the ball away early on, but then it was a real Cup game with not many chances for either team. This is an important win for us that hopefully will have a positive effect. I was never really concerned and we are still involved in all the other competitions."

Clark said: "I felt in the second-half we came right back into it and I believe we have now laid the 7-0 game to rest and showed that on a level playing field we can compete."

Goals: Guivarc'h (6) 1-0; Dasovic (7) 1-1; Albertz (36) 2-1.

Rangers (4-4-2): Niemi; Porrini, Amoruso, Hendry, Newman; Kanchelskis, B Ferguson, Van Bronckhorst, Albertz (I Ferguson, 64); Guivarch (Durie, 88), Wallis. Substitutes not used: Vidmar.

St Johnstone (4-4-2): Main; McQuillan, Dods, Kernaghan, Bollan; Scott, Dasovic, Kane, O'Neil (Preston, 88); O'Boyle (Lowndes, 73), Simao (Grant, 85).

Referee: H Dallas (Motherwell).

Booking: St Johnstone: Dasovic.

Man of the match: Dasovic.

Attendance: 45,533.