Jelavic leads Rangers to laboured victory

St Johnstone 0 Rangers 2: Ray of hope for McCoist as champions land first League win of the season
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The Independent Football

A routine victory will never have felt so significant to Ally McCoist. The opening results of his reign had exposed the Rangers manager to an anxious scrutiny, and he needed this win as a means to regroup. Even with a two-goal advantage, and into the last 10 minutes of the game, he yelled in exasperation at Steven Davis for some misdemeanour, and the impression is still of a new manager trying to impose himself.

There were reasons for optimism, not least the steady display of Dorin Goian, the tall, angular Romanian centre-back who was making his debut. A commanding presence who was confident on the ball, Goian brought some rigour to a defence that had conceded basic goals in their first two games. Lee Wallace was dynamic at left-back and Davis offered astuteness in midfield, but otherwise Rangers lacked the tempo and the poise to be formidable.

"You draw a game, then lose one, and people start to ask questions, that's the nature of the beast," McCoist said. "We've been talking about a lot of negatives in the last few days but there were a lot of positives to take from this. We were sharper, stronger, more direct. There's still a long way to go, but this was a small step in the right direction."

Even this early into the season, Rangers looked a little world-weary. They laboured at times, which told of a team not yet convinced of their own merits. The fragile confidence could be seen in the way Maurice Edu stumbled with the ball and Steven Whittaker surrendered possession in the penalty area, which almost resulted in Cillian Sheridan scoring with a header.

St Johnstone might twice have scored, with Murray Davidson seeing one shot tipped wide by Allan McGregor, the Rangers goalkeeper, and another spin across the face of the goal. But they were isolated inci-dents, and the visitors' main concern was finding the means to break down St Johnstone – an organised, disciplined side. Rangers' performance was functional, and relied on the physical might of NikicaJelavic and the deft promptings of Davis and Steven Naismith.

There was simplicity in theway Rangers eventually expressed their ambition. They exposed St Johnstone with well-delivered crosses, and from Sasa Papac's ball in, Jelavic headed on target only for Peter Enckelman, the St Johnstone goalkeeper, to make a dramatic save.

The home side looked vulnerable in the centre of defence and the next delivery, from Lee Wallace's free-kick, allowed Naismith to steer a header beyond the goalkeeper.

"It's not been a great week in terms of results," said Naismith. "We knew we had a point to prove and we're a bit relieved to get off the mark forthe season."

The goal was a source of comfort for the visitors and after the interval they played with more assurance. In particular, Naismith and Jelavic linked smartly, and they combined for the second goal. St Johnstone were culpable, losing the ball on the edge of the Rangers penalty area, but the counterattack was swift, ending with Naismith sliding the ball into Jelavic's path and the Croatian driving a low shot past Enckelman.

Rangers took the opportunity to settle on their lead, pulling Naismith back into midfield and conserving their energy for Wednesday night's Champions' League third qualifying round second-leg tie in Malmo, when they will attempt to overcome a 1-0 deficit. McCoist spoke afterwards of his hope that David Goodwillie might yet become a Rangers player rather than move to Blackburn Rovers from Dundee United, but the overriding sense was one of satisfaction.

They needed to win this game, and would have won it more comfortably if they had converted one of a number of half-chances towards the end. But there was still hope for them to take from the performance.

"Rangers were a land-of-giants team, with a real physical presence," said Derek McInnes, the St Johnstone manager. "They got the job done. We've got things to address."