SPL - Controversial penalties give Rangers win
Two highly-controversial penalties gave Rangers a 2-0 win at Inverness Caledonian Thistle as both sides were reduced to 10 men in an unusual SPL match on Saturday.
With a brave Caley side resisting the admittedly dominant Rangers for almost an hour, referee Euan Norris pointed to the spot and showed a straight red card when Ross Tokely slid in on Steven Naismith.
It seemed the wrong decision, if understandable given the nature of the challenge - and the context of an incorrectly-disallowed goal and three good penalty appeals in the first half.
Nikica Jelavic made no mistake from the spot although he missed one seven minutes later when Norris went with his assistant’s decision to point to the spot when Dorin Goian flung himself to the turf after a non-challenge from substitute Tom Aldred.
Rangers controlled the first half but somehow went into the dressing room level - thanks in part to some sloppy officiating, but largely due to an inability to find the final ball.
As early as the third minute the visitors were denied an apparently good goal when Jelavic was adjudged to have been offside when he finished from 10 yards: the assistant deemed him to be ahead of the play when Edu’s mis-hit finish off Juanma Ortiz’s cross fell into his path, but replays showed the Croat was level at worst.
The defending champions plugged away, bossing possession and giving the hosts the run-around, but it they did not create anything meaningful until midway through the half, when Jamie Ness’s low drive was deflected inches wide.
That sparked a brief spell of end-to-end football as Aaron Doran ran through but shot weakly at Allan McGregor, while from the resultant counter-attack Edu got into a good position but saw his low ball smothered by impressive Caley keeper Ryan Esson.
For the rest of the half the pattern was similar to the opening sector of the game: Rangers passing around on a lush, green but occasionally bobbly surface, while Caley got men behind the ball and looked for the odd break.
But the pattern did not produce too many opportunities other than a half-chance for the sliding Caley captain Richie Foran, but the spell did yield two penalty shouts, with Norris waving play-on after arm contact from Chris Hogg and - in a bizarre double incident - simultaneous ball-to-arm ricochets on Tokely and Hogg again.
The second half started nervously, with Rangers unable to get their passing together and Caley apparently keen to turn it into a scrap in midfield.
That worked in favour of the hosts, as Ally McCoist’s side failed to test Esson until a highly controversial penalty incident that saw Rangers take the lead and Inverness reduced to 10 men.
Steven Naismith, quiet until that point, had got goalside of the home defence but was denied a finish by a sliding tackle from Tokely, who hooked his boot around the Scotland striker to trap the ball.
But Norris - well behind the play - signalled for a penalty, to the shock and anger of the home players, with Jelavic sending the spot-kick to the right and keeper to the left.
With Caley a man down they were struggling to resist waves of Rangers attacks but the second penalty was even more questionable than the first as, when Goian theatrically tumbled while moving wide away from goal, Aldred did not seem to touch him, certainly not enough to provoke his flailing fall.
Norris could not be blamed this time though as his vision was obscured, but so was that of his assistant, who could not possibly have seen if there was contact from his angle but signalled for a foul all the time.
Jelavic was unsuccessful this time, denied a second goal by a superb Esson save, but his defence was slower to react than the speedy Edu, who knocked in the loose ball from eight yards.
Naismith spurned a good chance to make it three, dribbling through but opting to finish with the outside of his right when he should have gone left.
Edu was then shown a second yellow after a late challenge on Nick Ross, giving Caley a fillip to salvage some pride by pulling one back.
They could not though, Goian denying James Sutherland with a brave block to go some way in compensating for his antics earlier.
The victory puts Rangers on seven points from three games, joint-top for a couple of hours at least, although they and Celtic are among a cluster of teams with a game in hand at this early stage of the season.