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Velicka helps Rangers get back on track

SoccerNews in Scottish Premier League 9 Aug 2008

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Andrius Velicka helped Rangers recover from their Champions League humiliation as his second half strike clinched a 1-0 win against Falkirk on Saturday.

After a dismal European exit against Lithuanian minnows Kaunas on Tuesday, it was fitting that it was Lithuania forward Velicka – a former Kaunas player – who ensured a miserable week for Rangers ended on a high note in their Scottish Premier League opener at Falkirk Stadium.

It may be too early to herald a Rangers revival, however. Walter Smith’s side were far from convincing again and had to ride their luck when Allan McGregor saved Michael Higdon’s penalty early in the second half.

At least they seized that lifeline when Velicka tapped in just past the hour to mark his SPL debut for the Glasgow club in style.

“We were a bit casual in possession at times and didn’t start the second half well,” Smith told Setanta Sports. “But we got a little break when they missed the penalty.

“When it’s 0-0 and someone saves a penalty it’s always a turning point. We started to play a bit better after that and I felt a goal was deserved.

“It was just important to get off to a winning start after the problems in midweek. It’s never easy coming here so in the context of the match it was a good result.”

Smith made three changes to the side beaten by Kaunas, with Kenny Miller, David Weir and Nacho Novo making way for Velicka, Kris Boyd and debutant Madjid Bougherra.

Falkirk defender Darren Barr was lucky to avoid a red card when he brought down Boyd with a last-ditch tackle on the edge of the penalty area.

Rangers found some rhythm before the break. Kevin Thomson charged into the box and drove in a low shot that Robert Olejnik smothered well.

Then Christian Dailly’s shot was cleared off the line by John Stewart before Barr deflected Steven Whittaker’s goalbound strike to safety.

Falkirk had a golden opportunity to take the lead in the 50th minute when Whittaker gave away a penalty with a rash lunge on Kevin McBride.

Higdon’s spot-kick was heading towards the far corner but McGregor read his intentions and plunged to his left to produce a superb save.

That proved to be the turning point. Rangers stepped up a gear and broke the deadlock in the 64th minute.

Boyd flicked onto Kyle Lafferty and the Northern Ireland striker drove a low ball across the six yard box to former Hearts forward Velicka, who tapped into the empty net.

Former Uganda coach Csaba Laszlo enjoyed a winning start to his Hearts reign as Saulius Mikoliunas clinched a 3-2 win against Motherwell at Tynecastle.

Hearts midfielder Michael Stewart had opened the scoring in the 25th minute but David Clarkson levelled in the 33rd minute.

Audrius Ksanavicius put Hearts back in front in the 40th minute, but Clarkson equalised again in the 80th minute, only for Mikoliunas to steal the points two minutes later.

Jimmy Calderwood’s Aberdeen suffered a woeful start to their campaign as goals from Andy Barrowman and Roy McBain gave Inverness an impressive 2-0 win at Pittodrie.

Debutant Barrowman latched on to Ross Tokely’s 27th-minute cross to give Craig Brewster’s men the ideal start.

McBain scored in the last minute to give Inverness their first competitive win over the Dons.

Super-sub Jamie Hamill gave Kilmarnock a 1-0 win over Hibernian at Rugby Park.

Hamill, on five minutes earlier for Simon Ford, drove a David Fernandez pass into the corner of the net from 25 yards out to seal a scrappy encounter.

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