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Rangers 1 Accies 1 Opening League Game

Web reporter Martin McConnell reports from Ibrox after game 1 of the Ladbrokes Premiership season

Ladbrokes Premiership

Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow

Saturday 6th August 2016 at 1230pm (live on Sky).

Rangers 1 Hamilton Academical 1

We got our league campaign off too an almost perfect start at a packed Ibrox, and giving the pundits something to think about into the bargain. The day began as a celebration for the 49000 home fans, in a match that marked their return to Scottish football’s top tier after a four-year absence with the unfurling of the Ladbrokes Championship flag.

It was into this imposing atmosphere that the Accies side emerged from the tunnel. The starting XI was unchanged from the side that kicked off against Livingston in the 2-1 Betfred Cup victory last Saturday afternoon. Rangers started the match at a blistering pace and had the ball in the net after only a minute of play, but Waghorn had obviously carried it over the bye line first.

Hamilton defended well and saw out the initial onslaught,and managed to silence the home support as they increasingly ventured deep inside the Rangers half. But silence turned to disbelief when Ali Crawford opened the scoring after curling the ball beyond the reach of Rangers keeper Wes Foderingham. Rangers frustration at the battling Accies performance continued until half time break.

Rangers pressed the Hamilton defence in their search for a second half equaliser, Mark Warburton added a bit of pace to his side with a couple of substitutions just after the hour. It paid off only moments later when one of those changes, Harry Forrester delivered the ball that Waghorn levelled with. Accies then played well and challenged in final  thirty minutes and finished on top in the closing stages to secure themselves the first league point of the new season on opening day.

After the early scare that saw Martyn Waghorn’s goal disallowed after taking the ball over the bye line, Andy Halliday forced a fantastic save from Remi Matthews with a strike from the edge of the 18-yard line. He then saved what looked likely to be a certain goal after sticking out a foot, and sending Waghorn’s 8-yard strike wide of goal for a Rangers corner kick.

Hamilton weathered the storm thanks to efforts of Matthews and some good defending against Waghorn’s best efforts, and gradually got themselves into the contest. Crawford then nutmegged Joey Barton (it’s already gone viral on the net!) then had a 25-yard strike deflected wide after some quick inter play between Longridge and Imrie set him up with his chance. Then first murmurs of doubt echoed around the stadium.

Accies made the most of their time with the ball in the Rangers half and went ahead on the half hour. Louis Longridge passed to Greg Docherty on the left and his ball into the penalty area broke for Crawford. The Accies midfielder latched on leaving two Rangers players in his wake, before turning and putting the ball in at the back post with his left foot from 12 yards. An absolute peach, and he had the honour of scoring the first goal of the domestic league campaign in Scotland.

Both sides had chances before half time. Waghorn sent a free kick from the edge of our penalty area sailing inches wide of goal, and at the other end Longridge had an 18-yard effort blocked after skipping past a couple of players. Halliday then had a great chance to equalise before the break but failed to connect with the ball in front of goal by the smallest of margins.

With the start of the second half, Rangers doubled their efforts in search of an equaliser but the Hamilton defence performed admirably. Imrie and Brophy both had shots from distance go wide and Greg Docherty had a strike deflect wide off Barton, before Rangers made a double substitution just after the hour when O’Halloran and Forrester came on the liven things up at the front.

The move immediately paid dividends for the Rangers boss. When Forrester delivered a perfectly weighted pass into the Hamilton penalty area from the left, which Martyn Waghorn took well but side footed beyond the reach of Matthews. Not too long after, Massimo Donati almost put Accies back in front but Foderingham did well to save his headed attempt from an Ali Crawford free kick.

Both sides had shots wide of goal, but it was Rangers that gradually forced Hamilton further and further back. Rangers piled on the pressure with shots from substitutes Forrester and O’Halloran going wide, before Matthews blocked a Forrester certainty form eight yards then turned a 25-yard Joey Barton strike wide of his under threat goal to ensure Hamilton a well-earned point.

When asked if he enjoyed his Ibrox experience, Martin Canning said, “I think at the end I enjoyed it obviously after getting the positive result. When you come here, it’s always going to be difficult as it’s a hard place to visit. I thought that the shape of the team was excellent, they worked ever so hard and I’m delighted to come away with the point.”

Asked if he was determined to disprove the relegation tag wrong, Martin responded, “I think we will always get asked that, but I think we’ve always got that determination to come and do well regardless. I want a team of competitors and today we were excellent, the boys stuck to what I asked them to do and if they work that hard,it can only be a good thing for us and the club.

“I think that when Rangers equalised for 1-1, we could probably have sat a bit deeper than we did but I thought we still maintained a little bit of a threat. We tried to get up in the game as much as we could, and yes at times we had to sit off the game to make sure we were in good shape, but I always thought that we looked to be trying to get something more from the game.”

Hamilton’s goal hero Ali Crawford felt he and his team mates fully deserved to walk away with their point when he said, “I thought the lads put in a great shift today and thoroughly deserved their point if not more. But it was a good way to start the season and has given us a platform to now go and build from and see how far we can go on for the rest of the season.”

He added, “We knew it was going to be tough coming to Rangers on the first game of the season when they’re unfurling the flag with an electric atmosphere inside the ground. It was up for us to try and quieten the crowd that if we could and we did that in the first half, and with me scoring it kind of did that. So it gave us something to hold onto as well, which we did and it was a good way to start the season.”

His three new team mates  [Matthews, Sarris & Donati] have impressed Ali,  “They’ve all fitted in well to the side, especially Massimo who gives us some composure on the ball and also finds people with the passes that he provides and that obviously helps me. He gives me the ball quite a lot, but they have bedded in well and hopefully they can continue like that for the rest of the season.”

Rangers: Foderingham, Tavernier, Hill, Kiernan, Wallace, Barton, Miller (O’Halloran 61), McKay, Halliday (Rossiter 76), Kranjcar (Forrester 61), Waghorn. Subs Unused: Gilks, Dodoo, Hodson, Holt.

Goals: Waghorn 62.

Accies: Matthews, Kurakins, Devlin, Gillespie, Imrie, Docherty (Hughes 90), D’Acol (Brophy 44), Crawford, Longridge, Donati (Lyon 67) Sarris. Subs Unused: Woods, Want, Cunningham, S Boyd.

Goals: Crawford 29.

Cautions: Sarris, Kurakins, Crawford, Donati, Devlin.

Referee: Don Robertson Assistants: Graeme Leslie & Brian Templeton 4th Official: Craig Charleston.

Attendance: 49,125

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