12.03.2014 23:46 h

Football: McCulloch fires Rangers back into top flight

Lee McCulloch's hat-trick eased Rangers to the Scottish League One title in record quick time with a 3-0 win over Airdrieonians in front of a crowd of over 41,000 at Ibrox on Wednesday.

The Glasgow giants moved a massive 26 points clear of nearest rivals Dunfermline, with just eight games remaining, to complete the second stage of their long journey back to the top of Scottish football.

It is the earliest a Scottish title has been clinched since Partick Thistle sealed the old Second Division championship in March 1976.

Rangers entered administration in February 2012 over an unpaid tax bill, and liquidation followed in June that year to cap an amazing fall from grace for Scotland's most successful club, who have won a record 54 Scottish top-flight championships.

Ally McCoist has been the manager throughout this eventful period of the club's history and he was thrilled after the match.

"We are absolutely delighted not only to wrap the title up but the manner in which we wrapped it up tonight, particularly in the first half, was very pleasing," he said.

"It's been a terrific league campaign and we finished it well tonight.

"I'm not really qualified to say how big an achievement it is but it's certainly one we set out to do and needed to do as part of the journey back.

"Winning things is a wonderful feeling no matter what it is and where it is. These are all championships that we have to win to get back to where we want to be in the top flight.

"These are stages in our recovery which must be met so I think it's only fair they should be celebrated and enjoyed as you would winning any league.

"I think 26 wins and two draws so far is a good achievement. The players deserve an absolute enormous amount of credit and it's been a great night for them and the supporters."

Fittingly it was veteran McCulloch, one of only a handful of players to stay with the club following liquidation and their placement in the bottom tier of Scottish football, who got the goals that clinched the title.

His first came from the penalty spot in the third minute after Andy Little was brought down by 'keeper Grant Adam.

The Rangers captain converted another spot-kick in the 21st minute before rounding off his hat-trick in the 41st minute with an angled strike past Adam.

The Ibrox club, who have only dropped four points in an unbeaten league campaign, can now concentrate on attempting to clinch a place in the last four of the Scottish Cup when they take on Albion Rovers in Monday night's replay.

Rangers made just one change from the side that were held to a 1-1 draw by Albion Rovers on Sunday as Little was given the nod ahead of Dean Shiels.

And the Northern Irish striker instantly showed some of the guile his side had been missing in that match as he earned Rangers a second-minute penalty after 'keeper Adam brought him down.

Adam was handed a yellow card for the offence and his misery was compounded when McCulloch sent him the wrong way from the spot.

The Gers were awarded their second penalty in the 21st minute when David Templeton was felled in the box by Jamie Bain, with McCulloch once again outfoxing Adam from 12 yards.

The Rangers skipper sealed his hat-trick in the 41st minute when he latched on to a pass from Nicky Law before burying an angled drive into the bottom right hand corner.