Rangers 2 Raith Rovers 0
Despite a diligent performance, Raith Rovers were brushed aside by Rangers on Tuesday night as the league leaders continued their relentless push towards the title.
A Rovers side featuring four changes from the weekend win over Morton showed flickers of promise during a bright first half, but the concession of a second goal just six minutes after the break killed off their chances and, in the end, this was a routine win for the hosts.
While a 2-0 defeat at Ibrox can easily be shrugged off, the real damage was done down in Dumfries as Queen of the South closed to within a point of the Kirkcaldy club in the table with a 1-0 win over Hibs.
Raith’s next two matches - at home to St Mirren on Saturday and Queen’s next Tuesday- will have a much bigger say on the race for fourth place.
Craig Barr was recalled to the defence to make only his second appearance of the season as Ray McKinnon pushed Lewis Toshney into midfield, as he did the last time the sides met at Stark’s Park.
Toshney’s performances in the engine room are sure to have given the manager food for thought as, once again, he seemed to pop up everywhere while providing effective protection for the back four.
Further midfield changes saw Ryan McCord and Ross Matthews given some much-needed game time, while Grant Anderson returned to the wing after a spell on the bench.
Dropping out were Ross Callachan, Scott Robertson and Aidan Connolly - all rested ahead of upcoming games - while Mark Stewart missed out through injury.
Raith emerged from an expected spell of early Rangers pressure to win an 11th minute corner via an Anderson long range effort that was deflected wide.
In fact, the visitors won three corners in quick succession and put plenty bodies into the box, but the Rangers defence coped with McCord’s deliveries.
There was a sigh of relief for Raith on 23 minutes as Barr conceded a foul on edge of box but James Tavernier’s well struck effort clipped the top of the wall allowing Kevin Cuthbert to make an easy catch.
Raith were making a game of it and two efforts in quick succession, an Anderson header and James Craigen’s long ranger, were both easily gathered by Wes Foderingham.
Rovers had made a solid start, but they were beaten by a fantastic strike on 23 minutes as Harry Forrester turned away from McCord to curl a shot into the postage stamp corner from 20 yards.
Rangers only other effort of note before the break saw a short corner played to Tavernier at the corner of the penalty box but his low drive towards the near post was comfortably held by diving Cuthbert.
Raith were still in the game at half-time and Ray McKinnon would have hoped to keep the score at 1-0 for as long as possible before mounting a late bid for a point.
However, Rangers started the second half in an assertive mood and only a great block from Barr denied Forrester a clear effort on goal after his delightful turn bought him space at edge of box.
The hosts second goal was only slightly delayed however as Rovers allowed Billy King to skip inside from the left too easily and he teed up the inrushing Lee Wallace who side-footed home a cool finish from 16 yards.
McKinnon responded by replacing McCord with Robertson, before handing a debut to striker Joel Thomas, signed only hours earlier, in place of Matthews.
The ex-Hamilton striker, playing his first game in six months, got stuck in and looked capable of holding up the ball suggesting that he could be a useful acquisition.
Only a stroke of luck denied Rangers a third on 66 minutes as Cuthbert blocked Jason Holt’s volley before Dene Shiels got in the way of his team mate’s goal bound follow-up.
Rangers were cruising it now, keeping the ball for fun and shooting from all angles, and although Raith were working hard, it was only to prevent any further damage.
That hard work almost pushed Rangers into a costly mistake as a slack ball across the defence was pounced upon by Harry Panayiotou, but the on loan Leicester striker was not quite quick enough and Rob Kiernan made a last ditch tackle.
Cuthbert was called into one final save, blocking a 20-yard drive from Billy King, as Rovers reached full-time defeated, but far from disgraced.
Rangers: Foderingham, Tavernier, Kiernan, Wilson, Wallace, Halliday (Ball 81), Holt (Burt 81), Forrester (Shiels 60), O’Halloran, Clark, King
Subs not used: Bell, Miller, McKay, Law
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, Toshney, Anderson (Connolly 69), McCord (Robertson 55), Panayiotou, Matthews (Thomas 60), Davidson, McKeown, Craigen, Barr
Subs not used: Law, Callachan, Ford, Court.
Referee: Craig Charleston