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Rangers turn the screw

St Mirren 0 Rangers 2

Steven Davis claimed his first goal of the season as Rangers strengthened their grip on pole position in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League with a win over St Mirren.

The Northern Ireland midfielder netted in the opening two minutes before Nacho Novo marked his comeback from injury with a late strike to put the game beyond doubt.

The win — combined with Celtic's defeat to Hibernian — allowed Walter Smith's men to extend their lead at the summit to 10 points.

Rangers made two changes from the side which drew with Hearts at the weekend, strikers Kenny Miller and Novo both returned from injury and were drafted straight back into the starting line-up for the clash in Paisley.

Steven Naismith — also back after a spell on the sidelines — was named among the substitutes, with Smith boasting a healthier-looking squad than in recent weeks.

Rangers enjoyed the best possible start to the game when they surged into the lead with just two minutes on the clock.

Kyle Lafferty chipped the ball into the path of Davis, who cut inside from the right before lashing past Paul Gallacher to claim his first goal of the season.

To St Mirren's credit they could have been back on level terms minutes later when Kirk Broadfoot failed to close down Garry Brady and he was able to unleash a shot which was held by Allan McGregor at the near post.

Lafferty could have snatched a goal of his own after weaving his way past several Saints players, but the end product was poor and his weak effort was easily smothered by Gallacher, before Lee McCulloch smacked the underside of the crossbar with a thunderous shot.

Saints also looked capable of finding the back of the net and could have pulled a goal back shortly before the break when Andy Dorman's corner broke for Billy Mehmet but he blasted his effort well over.

Rangers tried to emulate their impressive start in the first half after the restart and Whittaker was not too far away with a low effort from long range which flashed across the face of goal and past the upright.

Not to be outdone, the Buddies carved out a decent chance of their own when Brady drilled an angled drive into the side-netting but McGregor appeared to have the shot covered anyway.

Saints should have levelled on the hour mark through Mehmet but the forward's header from close range was horribly off-target when it looked certain to find the top corner.

Novo then produced a bad miss of his own when he also nodded wide of the target from just a few yards out and with the net at his mercy.

The Spaniard had the chance to make amends when Miller squared into the path of the striker and his shot was struck well enough but failed to make it past two St Mirren defenders and the chance was lost.

With just over 10 minutes to go, Miller was withdrawn to make way for Naismith as Rangers continued to search for the goal that would kill off any hopes the home side harboured of claiming a valuable point.

The Scottish champions finally netted the elusive second goal with four minutes to go when Novo raced onto a superb Davis pass on the right flank and darted into the box before rifling a shot into the back of the net, off the inside of the post.

Belfast Telegraph

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