Football: Reyna reigns on the parade

Kilmarnock make Rangers sweat after unfurling of championship flag
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The Independent Online
Rangers 2

Wallace 39, Reyna 68

Kilmarnock 1

Mitchell 65

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 48,074

CLAUDIO REYNA removed the sweat which clung to every Rangers brow, and it had nothing to do with the sweltering conditions inside Ibrox. Until the American produced a stunning first goal for the club, the Scottish Premier League champions looked like stumbling.

Despite a wonderful opener from Rod Wallace, the treble winners of last season had been becalmed by an industrious Kilmarnock and a piece of predatory Ally Mitchell finishing. Then Reyna, who cost pounds 1.2m last April, conjured up a 68th-minute shot which had his manager, Dick Advocaat, off the bench and punching the air. Rangers are off and running again.

Before kick-off came the traditional unfurling of the flag which is presented to the Scottish champions. The Rangers chairman, David Murray, did the honours to roars of acclaim from a packed Ibrox, although the giant blue flag, without a breeze, refused to flutter and clung lifelessly to the pole.

Ibrox's two giant video screens beamed out pictures of the treble of triumphs Advocaat's players had secured before taking their summer holidays, yet as those images reminded us, it was a season away not just in football terms but in weather, too. Glasgow was truly Mediterranean with the thermometer pushing well into the 80s as the Scottish season kicked off in July. Yet the football was as energetic as ever.

The Kilmarnock manager, Bobby Williamson, deprived of the goalkeeper Gordon Marshall and Ian Durrant, opted for a pressing game. The midfielder was replaced by teenager Gary Hay, who was booked after just 11 minutes of his debut for a tackle on Dariusz Adamczuk.

Wallace's pace had fashioned two chances but Gabriel Amato, replacing the pounds 4m signing Michael Mols, who was injured in the midweek Champions' League success over FC Haka, could not get a touch on either of them. Amato's next contribution was to earn a yellow card after two dreadful tackles, illustrating how frustrating Rangers were finding Kilmarnock.

The sight of players being thrown water bottles every time they lingered near the dugouts made it seem as if Ibiza rather than Ibrox were the venue, and Kilmarnock could have staged their own rave party had they buried two good chances. Gary Holt's surging run deserved better reward than his weak shot at Stefan Klos, but that failure was eclipsed by Mitchell, in the 34th minute, as he shot straight at the Rangers goalkeeper.

Wallace showed them how it was done four minutes later, when he peeled off his marker, Frederic Dindeleux, killed Giovanni van Bronckhorst's sublime lob with one touch and then drilled a shot past Colin Meldrum before the goalkeeper could close him down.

Even Jorg Albertz, normally the master of deadly shooting, failed to find the target in the 59th minute, which was a pity because the quality of a sweeping move, in which he and Wallace twice exchanged passes, deserved better. Meldrum braced himself for a thunderous shot, but the right foot is not Albertz's best and he thrashed his effort into the billboards.

Kilmarnock threw on a striker, Jerome Vareille, on the hour for the tiring Mark Roberts and the Frenchman immediately produced a moment of menace, flashing a shot which Klos was relived to see creep just inches wide of the post.

Rangers did not heed the warning and five minutes later found themselves pulled back, when Mitchell - who scored here two seasons ago to end Rangers' dream of 10 titles in a row - continued his love affair with this ground. Hay's cross ought to have been mopped up by Craig Moore, but the central defender allowed Mitchell to pounce and control the ball before swivelling and drilling a right-footed shot past Klos.

Advocaat showed his displeasure by replacing Moore with Sergio Porrini, the message quickly reaching the rest of his team, because they restored their lead by the 68th minute.

Reyna's run was spotted by Albertz, who rolled a perfect pass into the American's path. The angle was difficult but Reyna delivered with both pace and accuracy to beat Meldrum and find the far corner of the net.