Lafferty seals title for Rangers
A superb Kyle Lafferty goal sealed a second successive Scottish Premier League title for Rangers, and a record 53rd in all, as they ran out narrow 1-0 winners over Hibernian at Easter Road on Sunday.
Celtic's 2-0 win away to Dundee United, their fifth in a row since Neil Lennon took charge, meant Rangers knew they still had work to do to claim the crown, but the often-maligned Lafferty scored a well-taken first-half goal that sparked scenes of jubilation amongst the travelling Rangers support.
Both sides had the ball in the net in the second-half but both Kenny Miller and Colin Nish had their efforts ruled out for infringements as Rangers held on to move 11 points clear with three games remaining. It is a ninth title in two spells at the club for manager Walter Smith and adds to the League Cup trophy the club collected earlier in the season.
It is a ninth title in two spells at the club for manager Walter Smith and adds to the League Cup trophy the club collected earlier in the season. Smith said he was delighted for his players, who have lost only twice in the march to the title. "We have had to ask an awful lot of them season and you could see even today they have lost a little bit of the brightness they had in the early part of the season," Smith said. "They have been fantastic and from that point of view, plus the consistency they have achieved, they deserve enormous credit."
Smith's assistant Ally McCoist said he was relieved to finally clinch the title after a couple of missed opportunities. "My concern before the game was everyone kept telling us we had won the league when in fact we hadn't," McCoist said. "But today the boys got over the line and looking back I don't think anybody could say they didn't deserve it."
McCoist, who along with Smith and coach Kenny McDowall are working without contracts due to the financial situation at the club, said he hoped to be back in the Ibrox dugout next season. "That conversation will obviously will be for another day but I think the most important thing is the lads have delivered for themselves.
"A lot of questions have been asked of the players in difficult circumstances and they have answered them and I am so pleased for them. I am delighted for Kyle Lafferty as he has got the goal that effectively won the championship today," he said.
Before the game Rangers were dealt a blow when Madjid Bougherra was ruled out meaning Lee McCulloch partnered David Weir in the centre of defence.
Kenny Miller sent a snatched shot over the bar before slicing a volley over as he missed a couple of early opportunities. It was Lafferty that sparked the celebrations when he opened the scoring for the second weekend in succession to score his third in four games in the 17th minute. The Northern Ireland man controlled Miller's high ball and used his strength to brush off Darren McCormack and Chris Hogg before firing a powerful angled drive past Graeme Smith from the left of the penalty box.
Allan McGregor used his body to block a fierce dipping drive from Derek Riordan who tried his luck from 30 yards out. Rangers came close to a second when Weir knocked Thomson's corner back across goal but Edu's header from four yards out landed on the roof of the net.
Hibs were inches away from equalising when Paul Hanlon connected with Rankin's corner from the right but he flashed his header just wide of the left-hand post. And the home side came out fired up after the break and David Wotherspoon came close to curling his shot into the top corner after a neat back-heel from Rankin set him up.
Hibs were appealing for a penalty in the 60th minute when Riordan went down in the box following a challenge from Steven Whittaker but referee Willie Collum waved away his protests. Rangers then went on the attack and after Steven Naismith's low drive was saved Miller had the ball in the net after lobbing Smith from just inside the box but it was ruled out for offside.
Hibs looked determined not to witness another Rangers title party at Easter Road, as they did in 2005, and McGregor came to the rescue when he pulled off a magnificent save to prevent Riordan's arrowed volley from the edge of the box sneaking in. Substitute Nish thought he had equalised in the 85th minute when he volleyed past McGregor but the whistle had already gone for a foul by the striker on McCulloch as Rangers held on to clinch the championship.
Kamara and Keane tally
Earlier, Celtic secured second spot as goals from Diomansy Kamara and Robbie Keane secured a 2-0 win against Dundee United at Tannadice. Kamara opened the scoring with half an hour gone when the Senegalese striker latched on to a Marc-Antoine Fortune pass before curling a shot past Dusan Pernis.
Dundee United substitute Jennison Myrie-Williams was sent-off for picking up two bookings before Keane scored from the spot in the final seconds, after Pernis had fouled Aiden McGeady.