Miller brace propels Rangers
Kenny Miller grabbed a double as Rangers began the defence of their league title with a 4-1 win over Falkirk at Ibrox. Lee McCulloch opened the scoring with an impressive long-range effort before Falkirk hauled themselves level through Carl Finnigan. The visitors did manage to cause a few problems, but Miller's performance and a late strike from Steven Naismith ensured the Scottish champions began the new season the way they ended the last, at the top of the table.
Following the unfurling of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League flag and obligatory blast of Queen's 'We are the Champions' it was down to business, with Celtic's 3-1 defeat of Aberdeen earlier in the day a stark reminder of the task Rangers face in retaining their crown. Allan McGregor was handed the gloves for Rangers ahead of Neil Alexander, marking his first competitive start since his indiscretions with the Scotland national team left a huge question mark over his career for both club and country.
Falkirk did their best to spoil the party atmosphere and it was McGregor who was called into action first to smother a well-struck shot from distance from Ryan Flynn. But with 14 minutes on the clock, it was the Rangers fans who were celebrating when McCulloch opened the scoring in style, dispossessing Burton O'Brien before turning and lashing into the top corner of the net from all of 35 yards.
McGregor was then left scooping the ball out of the back of the net when Falkirk restored parity with 24 minutes gone. Scott Arfield was the provider with a low cross from the left-flank and Finnigan did well to side-foot past the helpless Rangers goalkeeper from six yards out.
Rangers should have restored their lead when Fleck bulldozed his way through the Falkirk defence before stabbing into the path of Miller who somehow missed the target when it looked easier to score. However, the striker made amends within seconds when he met a cross from Steven Davis and sent a looping header past Robert Olejnik from close range after 34 minutes. Falkirk claimed for offside, but the flag stayed down.
Miller then tried to turn provider when he set up Naismith, but his shot was blocked by the goalkeeper, who also prevented a poor follow-up effort from Kris Boyd from finding the back of the net. The visitors were far from out of the match and passed up a decent chance when Alex MacDonald had his header flash narrowly wide of the upright from a corner, as they pressed for another equaliser. Rangers should then have put any hope of a comeback beyond reach when Miller teed up the shot for Davis and all he had to do was pick his spot, but the midfielder drove across the face of goal and wide when the net should have bulged.
Olejnik was called into action when Boyd threw himself in front of a Steven Whittaker cross from the right and his header looked to be heading for the top corner, but the full-stretch Falkirk goalkeeper managed to scrabble the effort to safety. However, he could do nothing to prevent Miller from claiming his second of the day after 73 minutes when the striker embarked on a lovely solo run before dispatching a superb left-foot strike past Olejnik from 12 yards.
With just over ten minutes to go and the three points now looking safe, Kevin Thomson made his first competitive appearance since suffering a serious knee injury nine months ago. Naismith then put the gloss on the win when he raced onto a Davis ball and produced a simple finish past Olejnik to wrap up the points seven minutes from time.