ALLY McCoist won’t be looking to pop champagne corks but last night’s League Cup third-round victory at Falkirk marks his high point in the competition across his three-and-a-bit years in charge of Rangers.
Scorers: Falkirk - Loy 5; Rangers - Tudur Jones 7 (og), Shiels 65, Black 90
It might not sound much, but this season will be the first in four that Rangers have made the quarter-finals of the tournament. They did all that was required of them against at the home of their Championship opponents. It might have required an own goal from Owen Tudur Jones to allow them to recover from the loss of an early goal, but the second-half strikes from Dean Shiels and, in the final seconds, Ian Black, were deserved for their superiority following the intervial.
To say that last night’s tie opened in frenetic fashion hardly does justice to first ten minutes that could easily have allowed Rangers to build up a 3-1 lead. Instead, the teams merely traded goals inside 90 seconds, with the thrills provided by spills. An angled drive from outside the box by Blair Alston five minutes in didn’t appear to have the power to trouble visiting keeper Steve Simonsen. However, the 35-year-old was late dropping to hit right, and as a result only palmed the ball out in front of him, which allowed Rory Loy to slam in from close range.
Almost immediately, a piece of slapdash defending at the other end brought Rangers back level with Tudur Jones attempting to slide in and cut out a Steven Smith cross from the right ending with the ball flashing high into his own team’s net.
As much as Falkirk might have cursed their inability to protect their lead, ultimately they could have considered a tied scoreline across the early skirmishing as something of a relief. Inside 90 seconds Dean Shiels, a replacement for the injured Nicky Clark, was clean through on goal and breathing down the neck of keeper Jamie MacDonald, only to lose his footing before ever getting round to the business of taking a shot.
And minutes after they had restored parity, a passage of ping-pong in the box seemed sure to present Shiels with a goal, only for MacDonald and the defenders in front of him to make desperate blocks. Inevitably, the early pace could not be maintained. There seemed no aversion to plastic from McCoist’s men following the manager and his players’ disgruntlement with the, far older and far inferior, Alloa surface they drew on at the weekend. Their hosts matched them for eagerness and endeavour, though, and the encounter became an exercise in the teams cancelling one another out.
Neither side appeared capable of fashioning any chances in a soporific start ot the second period, though gradually Rangers gained territorial advantage. And shortly after the hour they gained the one advantage they craved after a MacDonald kick-out was nodded back towards the Falkirk goal by Wallace and then headed into the home side’s danger area by Law. Racing through to latch on to it was Shiels, who required to breeze past his strike partner Boyd trotting back from an offside postion as he did so. The Northern Irish international then claimed his first goal of the season when he fired in an effort the Falkirk keeper got a hand to but could not prevent it finding the net.
Thereafter, Falkirk never looked like finding a way back into the tie, though a Loy shot from eight yards that came off the hand of Belil Moshni in the 88th minute gave them a cause for grievance, even if ref Alan Muir seeed to make the right call with the defender’s hand at his side when the ball smacked it from a yard. The home supporters, outnumbered two-to-one in the 5,259 crowd, were still mumping about the non-award of a penalty when Ian Black curled an effort into the top corner from 25 yards to gave them reason to moan further.
Falkirk: MacDonald, Vaulks, Shaughnessy, McCracken, Dick (Cooper - 80), Leahy, Sibbald, Tudur Jones (Bia Bi - 69), Taiwo (Durojaiye - 76), Alston, Loy
Rangers: Simonsen, McCulloch, Wallace, Mohsni, McGregor, Black, Aird (Templeton - 56), Smith, Law, Shiels (Hardie - 86), Boyd (Daly - 78)