Rangers failed to score in a match for the first time in the Mark Warburton era – though it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
While the hosts didn’t live up to their pre-match billing of heavy favourites, they’ll at least be confident of advancing when these sides do battle again at Rugby Park after suffering through “one of those days” in front of goal.
The home side were initially slow out of the blocks, and with Kilmarnock threatening on the break, it seemed an away victory could well be on the cards. But the longer the match went on the more Rangers began to assert themselves and were left frustrated at the full-time whistle after passing up a hatful of chances.
That’s not to do a disservice to Kilmarnock who responded brilliantly to losing their manager Gary Locke last week with a organised and hard-working display under interim boss Lee McCulloch. Despite his side being under the cosh for most of the second period, the former Ibrox favourite felt his new side deserved their draw.
“I’m delighted with the way the team bounced back,” said McCulloch. “It shows them that they can do it, they can pass the ball and they can be organised.
“Rangers are a very good side. They’ve got a lot of variation to their play. First half they didn’t play as well as they would have wanted but second half they dominated a lot more of the ball and we had to be more disciplined. To be honest, I thought the overall result was fair.”
It seemed we were in for a good old-fashioned cup tie when, in the opening minute, each side had goalbound shots blocked. Josh Magennis was denied after a training routine saw Craig Slater pick out the striker near the edge of the area. Then Rangers went down the other end where Kenny Miller saw his effort clatter off Conrad Balatoni.
Slugging it out with Rangers at Ibrox is a fools’ endeavour and Kilmarnock rightly became more cautious thereafter, sitting back with a narrow shape and challenging the hosts to play their way through.
They also kept a threat on the counter-attack with Tope Obadeyi, Greg Kiltie and Rory McKenzie supporting Magennis. The striker went close once more when his header from a Kiltie cross drifted just past the far post.
Even though Kilmarnock provided stubborn resistance, Rangers still had two great opportunities to take a first-half lead. Lee Wallace forced Jamie MacDonald into a close reaction save. Then James Tavernier fired off a snapshot from the corner of the area that struck the post, clipped MacDonald’s shoulder and bounced to safety.
With the half-time whistle imminent, Kilmarnock almost forced themselves in front. Craig Slater broke free on the left, feigned a cross, cut back inside and saw his effort deflected over via the shoulder of Wes Foderingham.
The second 45 started with the same tempo, but when Andy Halliday brought out another impressive save from MacDonald, the hosts came to life. Kilmarnock receded as an attacking threat and as the game wore on they focused their attention on keeping the score at 0-0.
While successful in their objective to get the tie back to Rugby Park for a replay, the visitors did ride their luck at times as Rangers peppered the opposing goal with chances throughout the final 30 minutes.
No-one came closer than Danny Wilson. The centre back out-jumped everyone to get his head to a corner from substitute Harry Forrester, sending it back across goal and on to the crossbar. The ball rebounded back into play and Martyn Waghorn struck a first-time shot. Half of Ibrox celebrated but the shot had struck the side netting.
Rangers’ leading goalscorer would then miss a tremendous chance to win the game with four minutes remaining. The striker was picked out by the always impressive Barrie McKay, but after opting to take a touch instead of shooting first-time, the ball squirmed under his foot and rolled away.
The visitors’ task was made even tougher when Kallum Higginbotham was shown a straight red card. The sub went in high and with his studs showing on Tavernier.
There was one more chance for Rangers when, amid a scramble, Waghorn fired towards goal. Before it could reach the goalkeeper, Magennis threw himself in front of the effort, diverting it away for a corner and ensuring these two sides will do battle again in a replay at Rugby Park a week on Tuesday.