Lafferty sets benchmark for Rangers
St Mirren 1 Rangers 3: Rangers boss Walter Smith hailed the impact of Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty, who came off the bench to spark the champions into life against St Mirren yesterday.
The Gers had been labouring in Paisley until Lafferty replaced Vladimir Weiss at half-time and the Fermanagh man kickstarted his side’s surge when he forced Marc McAusland into an own goal on 47 minutes then provided the assist for Steven Naismith to double the advantage ten minutes later.
Kenny Miller scored Rangers’ third before Michael Higdon pulled one back for the Buddies from the penalty spot after Lafferty’s international colleague Steven Davis was adjudged to have handled in the box.
Smith poured praise on Lafferty for his super-sub role, but also gave credit to the entire team for their second-half performance which saw Rangers leapfrog Celtic and go back to the top of the Scottish Premier League.
“Kyle came on and played very well and was instrumental in a couple of the goals but I think we generally started with more purpose and played a bit quicker than we did in the first half, which I think was the most important factor in our win,” said Smith.
“That was our first real spell of concerted pressure. The main talking point at half-time was to raise the pace and hem St Mirren in if possible.”
Smith insisted he had no complaints about the performance of referee Craig Thomson despite having a goal disallowed and conceding the penalty. They could have been ahead earlier in the game when Naismith and goalkeeper Craig Samson combined to put the ball in the back of the net shortly before the end of a goalless first half, only for the effort to be chalked off by Thompson.
The referee deemed Naismith to have fouled Jure Travner in the build-up and Smith was willing to accept that explanation at a time when match officials have been increasingly under the spotlight.
He said: “The referee said there was a foul in the box, on another player but not on the goalkeeper, and that's that.
“It was hardly an injustice. Injustice is a strong word. If the referee sees another infringement and explains it, then that's fine.”
On the penalty, Smith added: “With Davis it clearly hits him on the arm. We are not arguing about that.”
The win was not quite as impressive as the Hoops' 9-0 thrashing of Aberdeen, but Smith admitted St Mirren played their part in that.
“St Mirren were very well set up and it was difficult to get through them,” he said.
“I felt we needed to lift the pace of the game which we did after the interval and started to create a few opportunities and got the goals.”
Saints boss Danny Lennon said: “That's why Rangers and Celtic are so far ahead, they have quality players and the mentality to keep going for 90 minutes.”