IN RANGERS’ short – and far from illustrious – Challenge Cup history, last night’s events against Livingston won’t live long in the memory. And how that will please the Ibrox club’s followers.
Their side managed to avoid any mishaps in a competition that has served up many for them in the past. The 1-0 win ensured they will go forward to meet St Mirren at Ibrox in next month’s Petrofac Training Cup semi-finals.
It was a grind settled only by a long-range strike from Nicky Clark with 15 minutes remaining, but the fact that their ambitions to lift this trophy didn’t grind to a halt was a further indication that Mark Warburton’s side can find a way, even when their fluency and flair deserts them – as it did for much of this cat-and-mouse encounter.
If looking for a tagline for last night’s quarter-final, it could have been billed as the holders against opponents who have never been able to lift this trophy despite their financial advantage.
Rangers’ £6 million-plus wage bill in a competition mainly populated by part-time teams was supposed to make for the Ibrox side hoovering up the Challenge Cup for as long as they were exiled from the top tier. Yet, they headed into last night’s tie seeking to avoid the mishaps that have befallen them in three failed attempt to annexe Scotland’s most modest silverware.
With the exceptional Championship form of Mark Warburton’s side delivering ten straight league wins, visitors anchored at the foot of the league weren’t supposed to have been any real impediment to the home side. Even allowing for the fact that Mark Burchill’s team had played smart to prove stubborn before going down 3-0 at the same venue six weeks ago
Burchill clearly decided the rope-a-dope tactics of that day were the only way to approach last night’s cup tie.
Initially, at least, Livingston’s rudimentary game plan consisted of sitting in, then sitting in some more, and, when able to repel Rangers’ thrusts, launching the ball forward for Liam Buchanan to chase or Jordan White to knock down.
Their obduracy, in the face of incessant early pressure, had the desired effect.
Rangers became exasperated that their territorial domination only once looked set to yield them an opener across the first half hour – that outcome avoided in the 14th minute thanks to Ben Gordon producing a spectacular leap a yard out from his own net to boot away a goalbound header by James
Livingston lived less and less dangerously as the interval approached and – gasp – even had the odd foray forward. Yet even if the second half became as scrappy as Burchill would have hoped for – a spate of fouls, bookings and bad-tempered exchanges capped by referee Andrew Dallas feeling the need to call Rangers assistant manager David Weir from his technical area to have a word – it never seemed likely that the visiting manager would enjoy the desired capital from such tactics.
It wasn’t a moment of particular brilliance that sent the tie Rangers’ way but considering they had allowed themselves to get bogged down, credit must be given to half-time substitute Clark for having the pluck to ping in a 22-yard effort that had range and distance.
It wasn’t the most ferocious drive, but it skimmed the Ibrox turf and slid from the grasp of Livingston goalkeeper Marc McCallum, who, at full length, did well merely to get a touch on it as it made its way towards the bottom left-hand corner of his net.
Rangers: Foderingham; Tavernier, Ball, Kiernan, Wallace; Law, Halliday, Holt; Oduwa (Clark 46), Waghorn, McKay. Subs not used: Kelly, Miller, Aird, Hardie, Thompson.
Livingston: McCallum; Neill, Gordon, Gallagher, Longridge; Millen (Georgieu 86), Faria, Gibbons, Glen (Currie 86); White, Buchanan (Sheerin 76). Subs not used: Jamieson, Duckerell.