There are things you don’t expect to hear from punters after watching their team score six goals without reply for a biggest win of the season. One of them is “we got away with that” but that was the shout from one Rangers supporter to a friend he bumped into heading for the exit.
The exchange summed up a scatty Scottish Cup quarter-final. It is possible the encounter will be Graeme Murty’s last stand as caretaker manager in the aftermath of the messy end to the Mark Warburton era. The Englishman could afford to be chipper after the goal rush that followed the spirited 3-2 midweek win over St Johnstone but his wide grin might also have been a product of knowing that his team got away with crucial breaks.
Chief among these was Tasmanian Devil of a striker Joe Garner escaping with a booking for an outrageously out-of-control swipe at Dougie Imrie that was the sort of reckless – rather than intended – challenge that normally only ends in a red card. It came towards the end of a mad 15 minutes for the galloping Garner in which he was introduced at the start of the second half, scored by touching over a downward header from a Barrie McKay corner headed downwards by Rob Kiernan, cemented Imrie, and then had to leave the field for 11 minutes to receive stitches after clattering heads with Blair Adam – who was removed on a stretcher.
All of this came for Garner – who completed one of the most bonkers displays to earn a man-of-the-match award by bringing up a hat-trick – after Wes Foderingham had been fortunate to escape a dismissal for handling the ball outside the area after 13 minutes. An incident that preceded the home side opening the scoring with a 32nd-minute penalty, converted by Martyn Waghorn, for a tug by Grant Gillespie that left Hamilton despairing at referee John Beaton for his decision to point to the spot – one major call that at least he had backers for making.
Even Murty couldn’t bring himself to back Beaton on his leniency over Garner’s felling of Imrie, the interim manager admitting he was worried that it would result in his team being reduced to ten men.
“Yes, I was,” he said. “But the referee didn’t give it. As soon as it happened I wasn’t thinking about the emotion of, ‘God, what has he done?’ but about what I needed to do if it was a red. I’ve looked at it again and it’s more clumsy than malicious. He doesn’t catch Dougie with his foot, it was more his knee or shin. But I can see how that could have looked dangerous and put us into a bad situation. Thankfully it didn’t.”
Murty will move on by preparing the Ibrox squad to lead them into next Sunday’s derby at Celtic Park, despite the fact a successful pursuit of Pedro Caixinha would likely spare Murty those duties.
In yesterday’s contest, Rangers moved on by exploiting Hamilton’s inability to defend McKay corners.
Having moved the ball around enterprisingly in the first period – at least until they did nothing with it when the opposition goal beckoned – the markers of Martin Canning’s team were moved around all too easily when defending set-pieces. Jon Toral was first to capitalise, making space for himself to score after a McKay corner reached him in the middle of the box 13 minutes from time.
Clint Hill then headed in from the winger’s delivery five minutes later before a howling backpass by Grant Gillespie allowed Garner to take the ball around keeper Remi Matthews, before the forward fired through a ruck of players for his added-time strike that brought up his treble.
Canning was in no doubt Garner should not have been on the pitch to complete the feat. “It’s one of those days when nothing has gone for us,” said the Hamilton manager. “The penalty is very, very soft, if a penalty at all. I thought the tackle from Garner on Imrie was a red, and I haven’t seen it back yet, but I’ve heard the goalie is a yard outside the box when he grabs the ball and Rakish [Bingham] is running through on goal.
“Sometimes the atmosphere and the noise of the crowd appealing for things can sway decisions and it shouldn’t be the case. You’d hope we could rise above that. That’s not a criticism because it’s a difficult job but it’s just frustrating when it goes against you.”