Queen of the South 2 Rangers 3: Boyd guides weary Rangers over finish line

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The Independent Online

In reverse order, here are the totals of competitive matches played by some of Europe's biggest clubs in 2007-08: Celtic (54), Internazionale (54), Lyons (54), Manchester United (56), Bayern Munich (57), Barcelona (58), Chelsea (60). And way out in front, Rangers, for whom Saturday's Scottish Cup final was a staggering – in more ways than one – 68th and final fixture of their campaign.

After beating Celtic in late March to become 1-9 favourites for the SPL title, they played 17 games in 52 days, five of them in the last 11 days. Hence the stutter that turned a quadruple dream into something that threatened Devon Loch ignominy.

In that context, a domestic cup double and being pipped at the post for the Uefa Cup and the SPL is really not bad. And as the Rangers manager, Walter Smith, said after seeing off the challenge of a spirited Queen of the South: "I hope no other Scottish team ever have to play a 68-game season in the circumstances we've had to. It's not fair to ask any team to do that ... this is a Cup final and you're meant to entertain. We could hardly lift a leg."

An extraordinary train of events contributed to a backlog at the back end of the season. Domestic matches were postponed last autumn to allow first Scotland (in Euro 2008 qualifying) then Rangers (in the Champions' League) extra preparation time. The tragic death of Motherwell's Phil O'Donnell saw fixtures shifted. Gretna's groundshare at Motherwell made a joke of that pitch, and led to several call-offs, and the weather interrupted the programme elsewhere. Rangers were affected by all of it, and staying in contention in four events was ultimately too much, not least when the SPL mandarins ignored requests to extend the season.

At half-time on Saturday, 2-0 ahead through Kris Boyd's thunderous free-kick and DaMarcus Beasley's far-post steal, it seemed the shackles were off and relief would inspire a rout. Queens were having none of that though, Steve Tosh and Jim Thomson both scoring to level within eight minutes of the restart.

"At 2-2, I wondered if we'd be able to pick ourselves up," Smith said. "It was a big ask, but I was delighted to get another." Specifically, Boyd got another, with a header from a corner, to take his goal tally to 25 in all competitions for the season.

The future of Boyd, 24, will be one of the talking points of Scottish football's summer. "Only one Kris Boyd," sang the Rangers' fans. They also gave Smith their emphatic opinion of one of his supposed transfer targets: "Stick your Kenny Miller up your arse."

Boyd remains an enigma. On the one hand he's a goal machine, with 51 goals in 76 SPL matches (and 19 other goals) since joining from Kilmarnock in January 2006. But Smith evidently feels that most aspects of his striker's play fall too short to warrant a consistent starting berth.

Analysis of Boyd's goals show he is most effective against "lesser" teams, and as a substitute, when fresh legs late in a game can punish weary opponents. He actually had one of his better 90-minute displays on Saturday, but then Queens are a mid-table second-tier team.

While Boyd has scored more than once in single games against minnows (on Saturday, for example, and against East Fife and East Stirlingshire in earlier cup games) he has not scored more than one goal in any SPL game this season. And nine of his 14 SPL goals were against opposition in the bottom six of the table.

Smith needs no statistics to tell him what Boyd lacks, just as he did not need Boyd talking of a "frustrating" lack of games to tell him the player is unhappy. "He's complained he's not playing regularly enough," Smith said. "I don't see a great problem with that [complaint]."

Smith said he hopes to add "quality in the majority of areas" this summer. He said Boyd might play more often next season. He did not specify where.

Goals: Boyd (33) 0-1; Beasley (43) 0-2; Tosh (50) 1-2; Thomson (53) 2-2; Boyd (72) 2-3.Queen of the South (4-4-2): MacDonald; Burns, Thomson, Aitken, Harris; McCann (Robertson, 86), MacFarlane, Tosh, McQuilken (Stewart, 76); Dobbie (O'Neill, 82), O'Connor. Substitutes not used: Grindlay (gk), Paton.

Rangers (4-4-2): Alexander; Whittaker, Cuellar, Weir, Papac; McCulloch, Ferguson, Thomson, Beasley (Davis, 76); Darcheville (Fleck, 86), Boyd. Substitutes not used: Smith (gk), Dailly, McMillan.

Referee: S Dougal (Scotland).

Booked: QoS Tosh. Rangers McCulloch.

Attendance: 48,821.

Man of the match: Boyd.

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