Novo secures double with thunderbolt

Rangers 1 Falkirk 0
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The Independent Football

Nacho Novo fired Rangers to a domestic double with the winner in the Scottish Cup final. The striker heaped more heartache on Falkirk months after his double knocked them out of the League Cup, by scoring his ninth goal of the season to help Rangers claim the trophy for the 33rd time.

The defeat was hard on Falkirk after waiting 12 years for another crack at the silverware they last won back in 1957. Novo proved to be the difference between the two teams and his sizzling strike ensured he stole the show from Barry Ferguson, who was handed his first start for Rangers since his involvement in the infamous 'Boozegate' affair.

The deposed captain was drafted into the starting line-up along with Lee McCulloch after Pedro Mendes and Maurice Edu were ruled out through injury. Those were the only two changes manager Walter Smith made from the side which clinched the Premier League title at the weekend.

Falkirk's manager John Hughes also made two changes from the team which retained their SPL status with a win over Inverness in the last game of the season. Kevin McBride replaced the suspended Arnau Riera, while Neil McCann was given the nod ahead of Carl Finnigan. Steven Pressley had to settle for a place on the bench.

McCulloch had an early opportunity when he rose highest in the box to connect cleanly with a Steven Davis corner, but his header lacked power and drifted wide of the upright. Falkirk had a decent chance when the ball broke for Burton O'Brien on the edge of the box and he screwed his shot narrowly over the crossbar.

Steven Whittaker was not too far away with a drive which fell just past the post, with Kris Boyd just a yard too late to help the ball into the back of the net as he raced in from the left. A Neil McCann shot clipped the crossbar and the former Rangers player then met a Darren Barr cross only to stab agonisingly wide of the post from eight yards as the underdogs pushed for the opener.

Whittaker picked up the first booking shortly before the break for a rash challenge on Thomas Scobbie. He was soon followed into the book by Jackie McNamara for hauling down Kyle Lafferty, who won Rangers a free-kick near the corner flag. Davis whipped a teasing ball into the box which was met by the head of David Weir but Steve Lovell came to the rescue by heading off the line on the stroke of half-time.

Rangers swapped Boyd for Novo at the break and the substitution proved to be inspired when the Spaniard opened the scoring just 29 seconds into the second half. He collected a Sasa Papac throw before unleashing a ferocious 40-yard volley past Dani Mallo in Falkirk's goal.

"Looking at the context of the game and the quality of the goal, it will take some beating," Ally McCoist, the Rangers assistant manager, said, who led the team throughout their cup campaign. "It's certainly one of the great goals to win any cup final in any country. I thought last week was one of the best days of my football life but watching the players with the cup was fantastic."

The Bairns could have equalised when Scobbie threw himself in front of a McCann corner only to head wide of the target from the edge of the six-yard box. Falkirk thought they had hauled themselves back into the game when Finnigan had the ball in the net within moments of coming on, but the offside flag was already raised before he unleashed the shot. Falkirk refused to give up hope and Lovell's diagonal shot skimmed off the outside of the far post as Rangers held on.

Falkirk's manager Hughes said he was proud of his team's efforts and accepted the defeat with grace. "I thought they were all heroes," he said. "Even when they went a goal behind they kept going and digging in.

"Sometimes you can take defeat a little easier when you see it done like that. And it was a wonder goal."

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