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Spirit of Rangers haunts Saints

Rangers celebrate winning the 2010 Co-operative Insurance Cup
Rangers won the tournament for the 26th time in their history

By Keir Murray
BBC Scotland at Hampden Park

Scottish football is like sushi: mostly it's raw and you either take pleasure from its peculiar delights or you think it stinks to the high heavens. There is no middle ground.

But there was nothing fishy about Kenny Miller's 84th-minute glancing header. It won the Co-operative Insurance Cup for nine-man Rangers and devotees of our game and dissenters alike will have appreciated its skilful execution.

The goal ripped the heart out of gallant St Mirren and, in giving Rangers a win that looked beyond them, characterised the team's spirit and gave them the first leg of a possible domestic treble.

The fans at Hampden Park will never forget the moment Steven Naismith's perfectly weighted cross from the right was met by Miller.

He may never score a better and more dramatic header.

It was a crushing blow for the 10,000 or so St Mirren fans buoyed by their side's competitiveness and enthusiasm and, especially, the straight red cards shown to two men in blue.

The McMillan family panda car
The McMillans and friends show off their Paisley Panda car at Hampden

This was the fifth time the teams had met since 27 January and it really must be true that familiarity breeds contempt.

Kevin Thomson was sent packing for a crude and unnecessary challenge on Steven Thomson then Danny Wilson was shown a straight red for denying Craig Dargo a clear goalscoring opportunity.

There must have been a schism in the clan Thomson that we know nothing about, for that was the third time referee Craig had red-carded his namesake, Kevin.

St Mirren were trying to win their first major silverware since a Scottish Cup triumph in 1987 and their fans were keen to make the most of it.

The McMillan family, die-hard Saints evidently, were parading their customised Volvo "panda" car in the Hampden car park.

They had purchased it on Saturday and had spent the day painting it black and white, applying club crests and boring a hole in the roof to accommodate a sturdy flagpole.

They seemed a splendid, responsible bunch, but they could be forgiven if the old jalopy is found abandoned in the Gleniffer Braes, outside Paisley, on Monday morning.

Before kick-off, some St Mirren and Rangers players from previous decades were introduced to the crowd. There was Billy Abercromby and Tony Fitzpatrick for those in black and white; Peter McCloy and Colin Jackson for the Rangers fans, who provided three-quarters of the attendance.

Sad St Mirren fan
A young St Mirren fan feels the pain of defeat

The pantomime boos and cheers that met the veterans' predictions being relayed over the PA system added to the sense of occasion and fun.

With the sun shining on lush turf, you sensed that the Buddies fans sensed that their players sensed they could win this match; that the plodding carthorses at the wrong end of the Scottish Premier League could be transformed into trophy-winning racehorses.

But perhaps I was suffering from sensory overload, the result of the intoxicating perfumes emanating from the rows of footballers' wives and girlfriends to my right.

And, where there is intoxication, often there is spirit and this Rangers side have it by the barrel load.

Deprived of a Davie Cooper or young Ian Durrant, a Paul Gascoigne or a Brian Laudrup, Rangers rely on other strengths to win matches - commitment, organisation, the probing of Steven Davis, the goals of Kris Boyd, the experience of Davie Weir.

Walter Smith may guide his men to a trio of trophies this season, against a backdrop of cuts, the club being for sale, his working without a contract and an absence of new faces in the last three transfer windows.

Not many teams reduced to nine men go on to win a game. Few, if any, have managed that in a cup final.

Prospective buyers, of which there are few, will look at the club's balance sheet and weigh up its assets and liabilities.

But what value can be placed on the collective will of this group of players?

Kenny Miller scores for Rangers against St Mirren
Miller heads a stunning winning goal for Rangers

Share prices in football clubs may plummet, but Rangers have a priceless bond.

After the match, Miller told reporters: "St Mirren will feel aggrieved, but I'm just delighted to go away with the cup today. It was such a hard-fought game.

"To score a winner in a cup final doesn't really get any better, especially under the circumstances and the timing of it.

"I've managed to get the goal, which was great for me, but it was more about the team digging in. It was a fantastic team performance."

Domestically, this emphasis on the team can compensate for the lack of individual stars.

With just one defeat in Scottish competitions in a year, Rangers are not used to losing games.

If their opponents, such as Dundee United in the Scottish Cup on Wednesday, are to prevent them landing the treble, they had better find a way of not only scoring more goals than them but of crushing their spirit.



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see also
St Mirren 0-1 Rangers
21 Mar 10 |  Scottish Cups
Smith praise for battling Rangers
21 Mar 10 |  Rangers
MacPherson stung by final defeat
21 Mar 10 |  St Mirren
Co-op Cup final as it happened
21 Mar 10 |  Scottish Cups


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