ON AN evening when they were moved to issue a statement denying claims of fresh turbulence in the boardroom, Rangers negotiated the smoothest of passages into the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup.
SCORERS: Rangers - Shiels 8, 24, 46; Templeton 38
A hat-trick from Dean Shiels was complemented by a goal from the outstanding David Templeton as the runaway League 1 leaders took a step closer to mixing it with Premiership opposition in the latter stages of the country’s showpiece knockout tournament.
The comprehensive victory over an out-gunned and defensively vulnerable Dunfermline side stretched Rangers’ current unbeaten run to 29 matches and sees them now just four goals short of 100 for the season.
It remains to be seen how Ally McCoist’s men will cope against a top- flight side but they are certainly not lacking in momentum.
Much of Rangers’ early impetus last night, which put them firmly in control of the tie, was sparked by Templeton. The winger, who has struggled to find consistent momentum since joining the Ibrox club, caused consternation for the Dunfermline defence from the opening moments with his pace, directness and clever footwork.
Barely a minute had elapsed when the former Hearts player jinked his way into the visitors’ penalty area and got away a threatening shot which Ross Millen did well to block.
But there was nothing to admire in the Dunfermline defending when they fell behind in the eighth minute.
Another slaloming run from Templeton forced the Pars backline on to the back foot before he attempted to backheel a pass into the path of Shiels. The ball was intercepted by Ryan Williamson but instead of instantly clearing his lines, the 17-year-old tried to turn and play his way out of trouble.
He merely succeeded in directing the ball straight into the feet of Shiels, who turned smartly and drove a shot beyond the helpless Ryan Scully from around eight yards.
It was exactly the kind of self-inflicted wound Jim Jefferies would have stressed to his team they simply could not afford to make. It eased any early tension which might have affected the Rangers players and they continued to dominate possession and looked to build on their breakthrough.
There were claims for a penalty when Shiels, having seized on another defensive error to sprint clear, went down under a challenge from the advancing Scully. But the Rangers striker had taken a heavy touch on the ball, allowing Scully to make the interception.
Templeton then had a 20-yard shot saved by the scrambling Scully and there was a firm sense that a second Rangers goal was inevitable. It duly arrived in the 24th minute and brought further satisfaction for Shiels.
Fraser Aird was the provider from the right, clipping in a good cross with the outside of his right boot which picked out Jon Daly. The big striker’s header was parried by Scully but only as far as Shiels, who hammered the ball high into the net from close range.
Dunfermline needed a quick response if they were to prevent the tie running away from them and they did come close to pulling a goal back four minutes later. Top-scorer Ryan Wallace forced his way into the Rangers penalty area on the right and his firm shot drew a decent save from Cammy Bell, who turned the ball behind for a corner.
But that was simply an isolated moment of attacking threat from Dunfermline who continued to spend most of the action inside their own half. Shiels was sniffing a hat-trick and despite losing his footing as he latched onto an Aird pass in the 29th minute, he forced Scully into a save with a low shot from just inside the penalty area.
It was Templeton who did make it 3-0 to Rangers, his goal eight minutes before the interval a just reward for his overall contribution to his team’s dominance. With Millen backing off him fatally, Templeton drove into the penalty area and guided a low left-foot shot across Scully into the far corner of the net.
Jefferies made his disappointment in his team’s display clear as he made a double substitution at the start of the second half, introducing Ryan Thomson and Faissal El Bakhtaoui at the expense of Millen and Shaun Byrne. But before his changes could make any discernible difference to Dunfermline’s performance level, they found themselves further behind as Shiels completed his hat-trick just over a minute after the restart.
Yet again, Templeton started a move down the left which had Dunfermline back-pedalling. His pass found Lee Wallace marauding forward from his full-back beat into the penalty area. Scully raced from his line to halt Wallace’s charge, but the ball broke loose for Shiels to simply stroke it into the empty net from around 14 yards.
The rest of the second half saw Rangers effectively in cruise control, only occasionally bursting into the kind of life which threatened to inflict further damage on a Dunfermline side already yearning for the final whistle.
Templeton forced a smart save from Scully after another meandering run into the penalty area, while Ian Black’s regular willingness to try his luck from distance saw him strike the crossbar with a dipping 25-yard effort.
Rangers: Bell, Faure, McCulloch, Mohsni, Wallace; Aird (Peralta 72), Black, Law (Crawford 82), Templeton; Daly, Shiels (Little 76). Subs not used: Simonsen, Cribari, Foster, Smith.
Dunfermline Athletic: Scully, Millen (Thomson 46), Morris, Martin, Whittle; Williamson, Byrne (El Bakhtaoui 46), Geggan, Falkingham; Shankland (Moore 76), Wallace. Subs not used: Goodfellow, Young, Husband, Drummond.