|Lafferty is hugged by his teammates after delivering Walter Smith the perfect parting gift [GALLO/GETTY]|
Rangers clinched their third successive Scottish Premier League title with ease as Kyle Lafferty scored a hat-trick in a 5-1 final day rout of Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on Sunday.
It was departing manager Walter Smith’s 10th title over two spells with the club. He is now second only to Bill Struth who amassed 18 league championships before retiring in 1954.
“It’s for the club, it’s not for me,” Smith said.
“Everything you do is for the club.”
A point apart
Only a point separated Smith’s Rangers from arch-rivals Celtic at the end of the season. Celtic did the job required of them against Motherwell with goals from Gary Hooper, Georgios Samaras, Shaun Maloney and Paddy McCourt helping them to a 4-0 win.
But it wasn’t enough to stop their Glasgow rivals winning a record 54th league championship.
Victory capped off a trophy-laden career for retiring Rangers manager Walter Smith, who won his tenth Scottish championship to go with his five Scottish Cups and six League Cups won during his time with Rangers.
Smith’s second spell at Rangers, unlike his first, was beset by major money worries at Ibrox that saw striker Kenny Miller sold during January’s transfer window and he praised his squad’s resilience by saying:
“I think in the end they deserved it – obviously I’m biased but I think they deserved it.”
Former Scotland manager Smith named the same starting side for the fifth successive match and then saw Rangers score three goals in a remarkable opening six minutes as the Kilmarnock defence imploded.
The Ibrox side knew a win would see them crowned champions and it took just 45 seconds for Rangers to get the party started when Lafferty, who had scored the winning goals in Rangers’ previous two title wins, netted for the fourth successive match.
Nikica Jelavic knocked the ball on to Steven Davis who sent a powerful header forward for Lafferty to chase and the Northern Irishman dinked the ball over goalkeeper Cameron Bell from 22 yards.
Any remaining nerves were settled when Steven Naismith scored with just over four minutes on the clock, all but rendering Celtic’s effort at Parkhead meaningless.
The Scotland star sent the ball out wide to Gregg Wylde and then raced into the box to get on the end of his cross as he took a touch before lashing it into the bottom left-hand corner of the net from 12 yards out.
Lafferty then created yet more joyful scenes among the visiting Rangers support with the match barely six minutes old.
Naismith fed Jelavic wide right and the Croatian rolled a pass across the box for Lafferty to slot the ball low past Bell into the bottom corner.
It took a clearly shell-shocked Killie until the 15th minute to launch an attack, with David Silva firing over after cutting in from the left. Rangers keeper Allan McGregor then got down well to smother Liam Kelly’s low drive from outside the box.
McGregor then produced a great save to stop a fierce strike from James Dayton before some quick feet from Rangers’ Davis in the box saw him make room for a shot that struck the outside of the post.
Craig Bryson made McGregor work again when the keeper had to stretch to stop his long-distance strike.
Bell left ringing
Rangers started the second-half as they had the first with Lafferty missing a golden chance to claim a third when he fired a first-time effort wide.
But Jelavic made it 4-0 in the 49th minute when he curled a 20-yard free-kick past Bell.
Lafferty did though complete his hat-trick in the 53rd minute. Tim Glancy’s slip let Naismith’s pass run through to Lafferty, who stretched to prod home from ten yards.
Rangers captain David Weir, who turned 41 last week, saw a powerful drive blocked by Bell before Killie pulled one back in the 65th minute when Dayton’s 25-yard free-kick took a deflection off Maurice Edu on its way past McGregor.
Smith, who will be succeeded by assistant Ally McCoist next season, said he could not pick a favorite.
“You can’t pick and choose any of them; I’m just delighted Rangers managed to win.”
“I’ll go and have a wee drink now, I think.”