Rangers extended their lead at the top of the Bank of Scotland Premier League to six points thanks to a 2-1 win over Kilmarnock at Ibrox.
Dado Prso and Nacho Novo both found the net before half time to take advantage of a weekend when champions Celtic were preoccupied with cup duty. The
points were achieved at something of a cost however as Scotland Under-21 defender Alan Hutton was stretchered off with what appeared to be a serious
leg injury. Killie, who were given a late lifeline by Kris Boyd's strike, had not wanted to play the fixture in the first place as they had been
suffering from a mini-injury crisis in recent weeks.
That seemed to have cleared up in time for the game as there were plenty of experienced campaigners available to the Ayrshiremen but it was obvious
their initial gameplan was to frustrate their hosts as much as possible. At times Kilmarnock had every man behind the ball as attack after attack
foundered for the home side, who had seen Prso's first-minute effort ruled out by a flag that had been waved despite goalkeeper Alan Combe having
spilled the ball under pressure from his own defenders.
Something special was needed to break the deadlock and the Croat duly provided it in the 29th minute with his 17th goal of the season. Having
side-stepped Simon Ford to set up the shot, Prso was able to send a curling effort from more than 20 yards into the top corner despite Combe's
desperate dive. Combe was left stranded four minutes before the break when Ford gifted a woefully under-hit backpass to Novo, who, having taken the
ball round the stranded goalkeeper, had no difficulty finding the empty net to rack up his 22nd goal in a Rangers shirt.
Combe had previously denied the Spaniard with two parries and the second needed Garry Hay to throw himself in the way of Gregor Vignal's follow-up
effort. Hay was hurt when Hutton launched into a reckless challenge near the touchline but it was the Rangers man who came off worse and had to be
stretchered off. The young defender was booked as well and Alex Rae replaced him in the 39th minute, with Fernando Ricksen reverting to right back.
Killie had forced plenty of corners and the odd free-kick to put the home side under pressure before the break but they failed to fashion a single
opportunity to test stand-in goalkeeper Allan McGregor, who replaced knee injury victim Ronald Waterreus for a rare outing. Gary McDonald had managed
to head past him into the net early on but referee Steve Conroy ruled that one out.
Rangers had also given a rare run out to teenager Steven Smith at left back after Michael Ball was ruled out by the knock he had taken helping his
side to the 2-0 win at Celtic last week. Combe was needed again four minutes after the restart to deny Prso after Vignal's pass had set up a shooting
opportunity on the right of the box. Killie sent ex-Ger Peter Leven on for Hay in the 54th minute while Barry Ferguson was receiving treatment
following a blow to the nose.
It was already time for Rangers to conserve energy ahead of the tricky trip to Hearts on Wednesday so Steven Thompson replaced Prso two minutes later.
Thomas Buffel passed up a great chance to make it 3-0 in the 66th minute with an effort that hit a post when a goal had looked inevitable. Thompson
had started the move with a fine pass to Vignal down the inside left channel and the Frenchman's low ball across the goalmouth had looked odds on to
be converted. David Lilley was booked in the 70th minute for a late challenge on Smith, who was making only his second start for Rangers.
Killie gave themselves hope with 14 minutes remaining when Boyd, who had hardly had a sniff of a chance all afternoon, deftly converted Leven's
corner. There were plenty of bodies present but the Ayrshiremen's top scorer was able to divert it into the roof of the net on the turn. Rangers made
a final change with eight minutes remaining when Chris Burke replaced Buffel and there was still time for Combe to deny Sotirios Kyrgiakos his first
Rangers goal with a reflex parry from a Vignal corner move.