IT WAS just like the old(co) days at Ibrox yesterday. And not just for the fact that Rangers won by a more emphatic margin and proved more convincing winners than at any other juncture in this year zero season.
Rangers: Shiels 2, 21; McCulloch 33, 72; Crawford 73; McKay 82, 89
Referee: I Brines
The lop-sided scoreline in this Scottish Cup third round tie supplied Ally McCoist with his biggest victory in 17 months as manager, just when he needed it most. It was a canter from the second-minute with a deflected opener by Alloa’s destroyer-in-chief, Dean Shiels, who scored two and set-up two.
A ritual slaying that will have offered the support, and McCoist especially, a much-needed reminder that Rangers can be better than they have shown in these bleak, post-apocalyptic times. A period when Inverness Caledonian Thistle, as they did with their 3-0 win at Ibrox in the League Cup on Wednesday, could lay waste to a Rangers team as if they were a permanently-rooted member of the Third Division.
The Ibrox club won’t even get stuck in the Second Division on the way back up because, as they showed against a side that currently sit second in that set-up, they can manufacture maulings in keeping with the favourable differentials in terms of salaries and stature as set against largely part-time opposition.
Their capacity for doing so can be forgotten because, as with losing to Second Division leaders Queen of the South at home on penalties in the Ramsdens Cup quarter-final in September, they have made a pigs ear of doing so with any sort of regularity in cup ties across the McCoist era. So much so, that this year’s Scottish Cup is their last chance to avoid failing to reach at least a semi-final through five successive domestic knockout tournaments for the first time in the post-war period.
They remain four rounds away from achieving that but McCoist was entitled to cut a relaxed figure last night and home in on the fact his side filleted their visitors with four goals in the last 22 minutes.
“We got a break with the first goal but, from the fourth, we kicked on,” he said. “When the good Rangers sides of the past smelled blood, they went for it. I’d cut our boys a bit of slack because a lot of them are comparatively new to the club and new to first-team football. But the very, very good Rangers teams were ruthless and clinical.”
Especially when ranged against very, very bad teams as Alloa were yesterday. They were pitiful, and manager Paul Hartley took them apart as completely as Rangers had. “We didn’t turn up, we didn’t defend well. When we had the ball we gave it away and it was just a team performance that went badly wrong,” he said. “I didn’t see it coming, I can’t explain it. We have been solid defensively for the past 18 months and I thought we had a chance today. Rangers were the better team by miles, though, I feel sorry for our goalkeeper. It is never nice to lose seven goals but he never got any help from the defenders, from the midfielders or the strikers.”
Alloa’s case wasn’t helped by losing creditably performing full-back Michael Doyle to a straight red card for taking a swing at Paul Hegarty 12 minutes from time, after the pair had indulged in a spot of wrestling. “There was a punch, so he deserved to go,” Hartley said. “He shouldn’t have been doing that. The last thing we needed was to go down to ten men against a rampant Rangers team. We’ve got to find another right-back now.”
His team found themselves a goal down inside 108 seconds, when a Shiels shot from a poorly-dealt-with corner cannoned off an Alloa defender and swerved out of reach of Scott Bain. After their midweek misery, it provided Rangers with a precious platform. “You could see their players start to relax,” Hartley said. And start to play, with the second goal in 21 minutes the product of a passing move that shredded the visitors’ defence and allowed Shiels to drive in at the near post. Rangers’ third in the 33rd minute ensued from Shiels closing down a dallying Jason Marr, and the ball breaking to Lee McCulloch, who stepped inside from the right and drilled the ball in.
There then followed a lull during which Anestis Argyriou was forced off on a stretcher after falling to the ground with no-one near him. Ligament damage was suspected, as with later withdrawal Emilson Cribari but neither is thought to be serious.
When it came, the storming finish for McCoist’s men was very much of the barn variety. It was set in motion in 72 minutes when Shiels shimmied inside from the left before passing for McCulloch to sweep in his second and his team’s fourth. Within in a minute, it was 5-0 with substitute Robbie Crawford this time taking full advantage of a Shiels cutback. Eight minutes from time, the encounter became the Barry McKay show, with the little winger smashing in from 30 yards before he completed the rout with what his manager considered an even better goal when running on to a through ball he despatched with aplomb. How McCoist must have felt nostalgic over ranking a sixth and seventh goal in a Rangers win. It was supposed to be a weekly occurrence for him in this campaign.
Rangers: Alexander, Argyriou (Crawford 55), Perry, Cribari (Naismith 73), Hegarty, Little, McLeod, Black, Aird (McKay 61), Shiels, McCulloch. Subs not used: Gallacher, Hutton.
Alloa Athletic: Bain, Doyle, Gordon, Marr, Meggatt, Holmes, Simmons (Grehan 55), Young, Low (Docherty 74), Cawley (Thomson 79), Ryan McCord. Subs not used: McDowall, Ross McCord.