WHERE to begin?

Three controversial penalty decisions all went against Burnley, who also saw goalkeeper Danny Coyne stretchered off, winger Jean Louis Valois suffer a hamstring injury and defender Michael Duff pick up a booking and a suspension.

The crest-fallen Clarets also shipped more goals in 90 minutes than they have away from home in their previous seven league games this season.

However, there really is only one place to start and that is with the performance of referee Nigel Miller, who incurred the wrath of the visitors all afternoon with a string of puzzling decisions.

Steve Cotterill sensibly bit his tongue when dissecting the heavy defeat, but the fact opposite number Ian Holloway hid his delight to also question Miller's officiating tells you something about this frankly laughable display.

Having denied Robbie Blake a decent enough shout for a spot-kick eight minutes in, when Matthew Rose appeared to haul the Clarets skipper down as he shaped to shoot, Miller then chose to award the softest of penalties at the other end within minutes when Graham Branch held off Georges Santos.

The difference between the two was negligible, yet sadly, that was just for starters.

Less then 10 minutes later, with Burnley now firmly up against it following a sloppy second goal, Branch was again the victim of a clear miscarriage of justice.

This time the Burnley player was wriggling his way towards goal when on-loan Arsenal defender Frankie Simek scythed him to the turf.

Miller this time pointed nervously in the direction of the penalty spot, whistle at the ready between pursed lips - but incredulously waited until the ball was hacked clear before criminally waving play on.

Those three controversial decisions undoubtedly set the tone - and all too soon, all hope of a fightback was totally extinguished as Coyne made a complete hash of a clearance to allow Paul Furlong to score Rangers' third goal in 12 nightmare minutes.

And as Coyne stayed down clutching his knee before being carried to the dressing room, how his downbeat team-mates and manager must have felt like joining him and slamming the door behind them bemoaning the man named Miller.

Lest we forget, this was the police sergeant who hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons two years ago when he was rumbled running the line at Old Trafford while being given time off from his day job through 'stress'.

Well he made sure everyone connected with Burnley Football

Club was suffering the same condition as they trudged dejectedly back up the motorway on Saturday night!

Holloway later quipped that even the corner flags, which had a frustrating habit of falling over at Loftus Road, were probably trying to get something off the ref.

The only surprise is that one wasn't booked for diving!

It was that sort of day, and one that Burnley need to quickly banish from the mind ahead of another tough test awaiting them at Elland Road on Wednesday night.

But if they are to address a worrying little slump, then they will certainly have to perform a whole lot better than they did against a Rangers side that must have thought all their Christmases had come at once.

Holloway would have primed his troops that Burnley can be tough nuts to crack, having conceded just two goals on their league travels this season.

So imagine his surprise when the Clarets began nervously and went backwards from there.

There were bright sparks; most notably Valois, Tony Grant and James O'Connor on his debut.

But elsewhere, Burnley struggled to keep at bay a hungry Rangers side that had won their previous four home games.

And after surviving that early scare, when Hyde sent Blake scampering clear and the skipper looked to be fouled just inside the area, the hosts got the perfect leg-up thanks to Miller's generosity.

A scuffle on the ground between John McGreal and Paul Furlong - a ding-dong battle that raged all day long - somehow resulted in the Burnley defender being booked and the Rangers striker escaping scot-free.

And from the resulting free kick, naturally awarded the home side's way, Miller blew again when Branch innocently brushed Santos away while challenging for a header.

Whether it merited a penalty is highly debatable, but given the circumstances surrounding the non-award at the other end moments earlier, Burnley could hardly believe such a double-whammy.

Compounding the sense of injustice, Kevin Gallen stepped up to confidently beat Coyne from the spot to set Rangers on their way to a nap hand of home wins.

And napping neatly sums up the Burnley back line in the 24th minute as Lee Cook swung over a free kick from the right touchline and Santos raced in unchallenged to head past Coyne at the near post.

Branch was soon substituted, no doubt still simmering at having his own stonewall penalty waved away, to be replaced by the tigerish O'Connor.

But the task facing the visitors was almost instantly insurmountable as, in the 24th minute, Coyne ambled out of his area to clear a hopeful forward ball.

He totally misjudged the bounce however, and grimaced both in pain and horror as Furlong slammed the ball into an unguarded net from 18 yards out.

Brian Jensen got his first taste of league action this season following Coyne's injury, ironically having very little to do for the remainder of the game as Rangers stuck with the winning hand Miller had dealt them.

Burnley huffed and puffed to try to get a foothold, but the damage had been done and you sensed that by now, most players had accepted this was not their day?

O'Connor sent a curler well wide, Lee Roche headed over the bar, Frank Sinclair mis-controlled in front of goal and Blake forced keeper Chris Day into his only meaningful save of the afternoon when he tipped over a fierce free kick.

Miller duly awarded a goal kick. Enough said!




GOALS: Gallen (pen) 12, Santos 16, Furlong 24.

RANGERS: Day, Bignot, Rose (Padula 84), Santos, Bircham, Rowlands (Bean 43), Cook, Branco (McLeod 68), Simek, Furlong, Gallen. Not used: Edghill, Thorpe.


REFEREE: Nigel Miller. A joke. 4

BOOKINGS: McGreal 11, Blake 17, Bircham 47, Duff 57, Sinclair 90.