Penalty king Waghorn main­tains Ne­gri-style hot streak

Rangers striker tipped to reach 25-goal mark af­ter eclips­ing his best sea­son tally be­fore Septem­ber is out


IT is to be hoped that Mar­tyn Waghorn’s agent had the fore­sight to ne­go­ti­ate a gen­er­ous goal bonus into his client’s Rangers con­tract, with an added ex­tra built in for penalty kicks.

The Ge­ordie striker has never had a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing pro­lific – in­deed his pre­vi­ous best sea­sonal tally is 12 – but by the end of Septem­ber in his first sea­son in Scot­tish football he al­ready has 14 goals, with seven of them com­ing from the penalty spot.

It is enough to rekin­dle the mem­ory of Marco Ne­gri’s race to 30 goals by the Christ­mas of 1997.

Waghorn left with the match ball and the man-of-the-match cham­pagne as the Ibrox side made light of this po­ten­tially tricky as­sign­ment at Cap­pielow to es­tab­lish a nine-point lead at the top of the di­vi­sion ahead of the visit of their clos­est chal­lengers, Falkirk, to Ibrox this week­end.

There was plen­ti­ful praise for the 25-year-old for­mer Wi­gan player both from his man­ager and his team-mate Andy Hal­l­i­day, who re­vealed that Waghorn’s per­fect penalty ra­tio was ac­tu­ally at his ex­pense.

“We have been wind­ing him up about the penal­ties,” said Hal­l­i­day. “The sad thing is I’m sec­ond on the penal­ties so I’m chok­ing for him to come off and let me have a shot. If he’s not on the park I take them but he is play­ing 90 min­utes most weeks.

“We prac­tised penal­ties in train­ing and it was be­tween the two of us and he got the nod. But that’s seven from seven penal­ties now so he’s dif­fer­ent class and he de­served his match ball. I’m happy to let him do it when he’s got a con­ver­sion rate like that.

“He prac­tises them ev­ery day and reaps the ben­e­fits. It’s re­ally im­por­tant you have a striker than can score 25 goals a sea­son and he looks like he’s on the way to hit that tar­get.” The TV cam­eras were at Cap­pielow for first league meet­ing be­tween these two sides since the 1987-88 sea­son.

The Greenock side had won that en­counter 3-2 and hopes were high in home ar­eas at the end of a week which saw them progress to the last eight of the League Cup af­ter an ex­tra-time vic­tory at the ex­pense of Premier­ship side Mother­well, while the Ibrox side were dumped out of the same com­pe­ti­tion at home by St John­stone.

While Rangers’ Cham­pi­onship form has been im­pec­ca­ble so far this sea­son, Mor­ton had lost just on league match pre­vi­ously them­selves, by a soli­tary goal against Hibs at Easter Road.

Mark War­bur­ton made one change to his start­ing line-up, bring­ing in Bar­rie McKay – once on loan to a Mor­ton side who got rel­e­gated from the Cham­pi­onship – for Kenny Miller and this was a chas­tened Rangers team who emerged for this lunchtime kick off, greeted by the vis­it­ing fans with plumes of blue smoke.

Jim Duffy had taken a page from the Tommy Wright play­book, leav­ing two mo­bile strik­ers up the park to try to oc­cupy Rangers’ cen­tral de­fend­ers, while the pacy Bobby Barr was sta­tioned wide left in an at­tempt to get into the space be­hind James Tav­ernier.

While the ap­proach was pe­ri­od­i­cally suc­cess­ful in cre­at­ing chances, it placed too great a strain on Mor­ton as a de­fen­sive unit, par­tic­u­larly with on-loan Bar­clays Premier League duo Nathan Oduwa and Ge­dion Ze­lalem show­cas­ing their abil­i­ties to the full. The Ar­se­nal young­ster had al­ready had a shot saved by the time his Tot­ten­ham pal pro­duced the piece of skill which turned this match.

Pick­ing the ball up on the right flank, Oduwa elim­i­nated Conor Pep­per too easily then drove into the box be­fore draw­ing a rash chal­lenge from the lung­ing Ross Forbes. Ref­eree Wil­lie Col­lum had no hes­i­ta­tion in deem­ing it a foul, and penalty spe­cial­ist Waghorn duly slot­ted in his sev­enth spot kick of the sea­son.

Say what you like about Waghorn, but he isn’t half rack­ing up the goals. His 13th of the sea­son in all com­pe­ti­tions ar­rived from open play, from another sce­nario in which the brawny striker is com­fort­able. Fed by McKay in the football equiv­a­lent of the low post in bas­ket­ball, he held off Ricki Lamie, then swiv­elled to fire in a low left-foot shot which left Gas­ton with no chance.

Forbes curled a free-kick into the sidenet­ting, but when Mor­ton got caught up the field from a sim­i­lar po­si­tion, this match was se­ri­ously get­ting away from the home side. Tav­ernier started the counter at­tack, win­ning a header in­side his own box, and fin­ished it too, slot­ting in a left-foot fin­ish af­ter the ball had been fun­nelled onto him via McKay and then Ze­lalem.

The Ibrox side were in a com­fort zone by now, but there were still glimpses of de­fen­sive frailty. Alex Sa­muel pounced on a Rob Kier­nan mis­take but the on-loan Swansea City striker, who had been a cup hero in mid­week, got it all wrong from just out­side the six-yard box. Wes Foder­ing­ham then pro­duced a fine dou­ble save from Michael Tidser and Denny John­stone, but the for­mer Celtic youth striker, cur­rently on loan from Birm­ing­ham City, re­ally should have given him no chance.

Home goal­keeper Derek Gas­ton saved well from Waghorn and sub­sti­tute Kenny Miller, but the sec­ond half was mainly a non-event. That was un­til Tav­ernier got down the right one last time, his cross was missed by Miller and Waghorn gob­bled up goal No 14 of the sea­son with a fin­ish which de­flected into the top cor­ner.

Sub­sti­tute Dean Shiels struck a post late on but it was al­ready a case of job done for Rangers, who had re-es­tab­lished their old rou­tine fol­low­ing the trauma of mid­week.

HAT-TRICK HERO: Mar­tyn Waghorn takes the ac­claim of Rangers team-mates Kenny Miller and James Tav­ernie

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