IN FRONT of their lowest home attendance of the season so far, Rangers produced an appropriately low-key performance which was still effective enough to see off a spirited Elgin City side and secure their place in the last 16 of the William Hill Scottish Cup.
Scorers: Rangers - Shiels (43), Kyle (68), Naismith (85)
Referee: E Norris
Unlike the aborted Third Division fixture between these clubs which had been scheduled at Borough Briggs seven days earlier, there was never any danger of this tie being over-subscribed.
On a bitterly cold afternoon, the crowd of just over 23,000 in Govan still constituted the biggest gathering at any of the weekend fourth-round matches in Scotland. They witnessed what was often a stultifying affair, won comfortably enough by Ally McCoist’s team but with a final scoreline which did not fully reflect Elgin’s energetic and, at times, adventurous part in it.
Dean Shiels set Rangers on their way just before the interval, with second half strikes by Kevin Kyle and substitute Kal Naismith making sure the Third Division leaders would take their place in today’s fifth round draw.
Elgin arrived armed with belief they could cause their hosts some difficulty in this tie. It proved to be the case, Rangers initially unable to fully impose themselves on Ross Jack’s robust side. It might have been less of a struggle for Rangers had a second-minute strike by Kyle not been ruled out for offside.
While Rangers dominated possession, it was anything but one-way traffic and Neil Alexander was called into action in the fifth minute when he got down smartly at his right-hand post to hold a shot by Mark Nicolson. There was another moment of alarm for the Rangers defence when Stuart Leslie linked up with Craig Gunn to stretch them, Alexander again equal to the task as he gathered Gunn’s shot.
Most of Rangers’ threatening work was coming down the left flank through 17-year-old winger Barrie McKay, who was ably supported by left-back Lee Wallace. McKay provided plenty of ammunition, seeing a corner headed wide by Chris Hegarty and then a fine cross nodded over by Kyle.
Some of Rangers’ decision-making in the attacking third of the pitch was poor, most notably by Shiels who tended to over-elaborate when a simpler pass was on. But the Northern Ireland international was always available to take the ball and would ultimately be rewarded for his persistence.
The pressure on the Elgin defence was intensifying, but Rangers too often lacked composure and a clinical edge in the penalty area, a flaw typified by Kyle’s ponderous control and scuffed shot wide after excellent set-up play by Wallace.
Just as it seemed Elgin would reach half-time on level terms, however, Rangers found the finishing touch to make their 43rd-minute breakthrough. Kyle rose to flick on a long ball by captain Lee McCulloch into the path of Shiels who turned smartly to beat John Gibson via the inside of the goalkeeper’s left-hand post from close range.
McCoist’s anguish at his team’s failure to make the tie safe was evident as he prowled around his technical area. With Elgin sensing that earning a replay was not yet beyond them, there was further frustration for Rangers when Gibson pulled off a brilliant close range save to deny Shiels.
But the comfort of a second goal which McCoist craved arrived in the 68th minute. McKay’s corner from the left fell into the heart of the Elgin six-yard box where Kyle outmuscled the defence to beat Gibson with a stooping header.
Still Elgin were not completely discouraged, Sean Crighton forcing Alexander into a fine reflex save when he got on the end of Daniel Moore’s corner from the left.
Rangers introduced David Templeton to the fray, the winger making his first appearance since suffering a serious ankle injury three months ago. He was quickly involved in a sweeping move down the left, culminating in a Wallace cross finding its way to McKay whose shot struck Gibson’s left hand post. The goal which Elgin would have merited for their efforts was denied them once more when another Rangers substitute, Darren Cole, cleared off the line after Leslie’s shot had beaten Alexander.
It was the home side who added gloss to the final scoreline in the 85th minute with the best goal of the afternoon. Kal Naismith, who had replaced Kyle two minutes earlier, sped on to Cole’s pass and brought the ball under control neatly to wrong-foot the Elgin defence before driving a precise left-foot shot low beyond Gibson.