The essence of Walter Smith's restoration work at Rangers has been sealing a once porous defence. Yesterday the leaders produced a sixth clean sheet in a row, while Kris Boyd and Steven Naismith provided the goals that ground out a victory over Falkirk.
Smith will not have been deluded by the success. It took Naismith's 89th-minute goal to put a gloss on the scoreline and the Rangers manager knows his team will face a far tougher scrutiny from Panathinaikos when the Greeks come to Glasgow on Wednesday in the Uefa Cup.
Injuries forced John Hughes, the attack-minded Falkirk manager, to deploy a 4-1-4-1 formation. It worked perfectly for 23 minutes, as the ferocious Falkirk pressing game choked any ambition from the hosts. In that time, Scott Arfield, the teenage Falkirk midfielder, came close with two efforts, the latter a volley that narrowly cleared the bar.
And there seemed little danger for Falkirk when Jean-Claude Darcheville galloped towards them, especially as Kenny Milne dispossessed the forward with a clean tackle. However, the Frenchman's threatrical fall duped referee Brian Winter and that allowed Boyd to drill a raking 25-yard free-kick through a gap in the wall, bouncing beyond goalkeeper Robert Olejnik.
Darcheville's inability to stay on his feet was evident again when he embarked on a 60-yard run, advancing into the box but Olejnik read the situation well and bravely saved at the striker's feet, despite his fall. But Falkirk came close to equalising. Steven Whittaker earned a booking for a foul on Pedro Moutinho out near the corner flag, and Tam Scobbie whipped in a free-kick that just evaded the far post.
Boyd might have doubled his haul in the 43rd minute, when he met a Chris Burke corner with a firm volley but Olejnik produced a remarkable stop, parrying the ball to safety.
Barry Ferguson should have found the net in the 48th minute after spinning with his back to goal. Instead, the Rangers captain hooked his shot wide from just four yards. The excellent Olejnik then denied Ferguson and beat away Burke's drive.
Billy Clarke's cutback appeared to be handled by a Rangers defender before Patrick Cregg fired his effort just narrowly over the bar. But, as Falkirk tried to force the issue, Darren Barr was robbed by Naismith, who steered a right-foot finish beyond Olejnik.Reuse content