Freed of their draining Champions' League responsibilities, Rangers turned their attention back to rescuing a wretched League campaign by securing a victory here yesterday that puts pressure on Hearts above them.
The second-placed side's slip-up at Inverness means that the gap is now down to six points. Rangers visit Tynecastle next Sunday, where the margin should be much narrower than here after the dismissal of their goalkeeper Alan Combe contributed to the implosion of Kilmarnock, who lost three goals in the last 19 minutes.
"Hearts drawing is a bonus," said the manager, Alex McLeish, whose successor-in-waiting, the Frenchman Paul Le Guen, agreed a three-year deal with the Rangers chairman, David Murray, yesterday. "Europe is over for us. There is no silverware left but we must try and get the other Champions' League spot," added McLeish.
Rangers continued where they left off against Villarreal, with a display of direct football that caused Kilmarnock as many problems as the Spanish side. Rangers won 10 corners in a half that they dominated, yet they just had one goal to show for it.
That came from Kris Boyd. The striker was sold by impoverished Kilmarnock for just £400,000 during the January transfer window, even though he was the SPL's top scorer. After 13 minutes, Boyd collected his 10th in a Rangers shirt to haul his tally for the season to 27.
Dado Prso escaped from Lindsay Wilson and cut the ball back to Chris Burke. He conjured up an embarrassing mis-hit that landed at the feet of Boyd, who stabbed his shot past Combe.
Combe found himself at the eye of the storm for much of the half, making good saves from Barry Ferguson's volley and Boyd's shot from the edge of the box. But Steven Naismith, with a searing run, and then Colin Nish, with a header from the subsequent corner, indicated Kilmarnock were far from dead.
The second half seemed like it was going be a far more even contest. Ronald Waterreus denied Paul Di Giacomo's volley and Naismith embarrassed Sotiros Kyrgiakos before the defender hauled him down just outside the penalty area.
However, having threatened to restore parity, Kilmarnock's poor marking allowed Julien Rodriguez to score after Kyrgiakos headed Ferguson's free-kick back across for his central defensive partner to thump a header into the roof of the net.
Then, in the 85th minute, Combe was sent off for bringing down Peter Lovenkrands, who had over-hit the ball and was heading away from goal. Not only were the visitors reduced to 10 men, but they had already used up their three substitutes and James Fowler was forced to don the goalkeeper's shirt before Prso easily beat him with the penalty kick.
Lovenkrands put the seal on the occasion by taking advantage of Fowler's unease three minute from the end as he whipped a 30-yard free-kick into the top corner.Reuse content