Wednesday March 12, 2014
SPFL League One
McCulloch 3 pen, 21 pen, 41
Airdrieonians lost their impressive unbeaten record at Ibrox on Wednesday night as Rangers wrapped up the League One championship.
A 38-minute first half hat-trick from veteran Lee McCulloch, which included two penalties, ensured back-to-back promotions for Ally McCoist's full-time team and a fifth defeat in five games for the Diamonds at the hands of the Glasgow giants.
The Light Blues made one change to the side which started Sunday's 1-1 draw against Albion Rovers in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup with Andrew Little preferred to Dean Shiels in attack.
Diamonds boss Gary Bollan fielded the same starting line-up for the third match in a row but recalled top goalscorer Lewis Coult and gave him a place on the bench.
The hosts needed an early confidence boost following stinging criticism in the wake of their cup stalemate and got it in the third minute when they took the lead from the penalty spot.
Keeper Grant Adam charged off his line and brought down Northern Irish forward Little with skipper McCulloch stepping up and slamming the ball home.
Airdrie had spot-kick claims of their own turned down by referee Brian Colvin four minutes later, when McCulloch appeared to check Keigan Parker's progress in the area, before Gers were awarded their second penalty in the 21st minute.
Defender Gregor Buchanan was ruled to have brought down David Templeton and McCulloch once again got the better of Adam from 12 yards with a thumping finish high into the net.
It was pretty much one-way traffic and the Diamonds had Adam to thank in the 27th minute when he blocked well from midfielder Nicky Law who reached Richard Foster's defence-splitting pass.
But he couldn't prevent McCulloch grabbing his and Rangers' third goal in the 41st minute. A decent move cut open the Airdrie defence with the 35-year-old slotting home a pass from Law.
Rangers continued to dominate after the break with Adam forced to make good saves from McCulloch and Wallace before Bilel Mohsni struck the post following a clever exchange of passes with substitute Nicky Clark.
The second half was a more sedate affair with the home side knowing the evening's objective had been achieved. Bollan opted to give run-outs to substitutes Scott Stewart, son of Diamonds legend Sandy, Nicky Cadden and Liam Coogans.
Clark almost added a fourth goal for Rangers in the 86th minute but his low drive flew inches past Adam's left-hand post.
Airdrie remain in eighth place in the table on goal difference and a point clear of rock-bottom Arbroath who welcome Bollan's men to Gayfield this Saturday in a crucial match in the battle to avoid the dreaded drop.
Colin Paterson at Ibrox Stadium.
Photographs © Robert Dalzell. Click to view full size.