RANGERS have had more than a few feckless displays over the past two seasons, but this one topped them all. Albion Rovers deserve immense credit for their bravery and for the self-discipline they showed in sticking to their task, and you could not begrudge them the good fortune they enjoyed at times.
Scorers: Rangers - Mohsni (78); Albion Rovers - Donnelly (14)
Bookings: Rangers - Black; Albion Rovers - Parry, Russell, Flood, Donnelly
But above all, this Scottish Cup quarter-final was a tale of ineptitude by Ally McCoist’s side, the only saving grace from their point of view being the fact they are still in the competition.
From the time that Ciaran Donnelly gave Rovers the lead, Rangers were increasingly tense and nervous. They had a score or more of attempts on goal, but only rarely displayed the composure and wit required to break down a defence who gave their all for their impressive manager, James Ward. Through to this stage of the competition for the first time in 80 years, Rovers had excelled themselves to beat Motherwell in the fourth round before getting the better of Stenhousemuir in the fifth, but were given little hope of progressing further. Rangers won 4-0 when the teams last met at Livingston back in July, in the first round of the Ramsdens Cup, and the smart money was on a similar result.
Instead, the League 2 team gave notice of their intent straight from kick-off, and could have gone ahead in the opening minute. A slip by Bilel Mohsni put the home defence in trouble, and Rovers worked the ball into a good position only for Liam Cusack to shoot wide of Cammy Bell’s goal from 20 yards.
If Rangers had been in any danger of approaching the game complacently, that incident should have ensured they gave the contest their full attention. For a time they pressed eagerly in search of an early opener, and after ten minutes David Templeton delivered a tempting outswinger from the left wing. Jon Daly got to the cross ahead of the defence, but he could only head narrowly wide. By that point it looked to be just a matter of time before the opening goal arrived, and so it did three minutes later – but at the other end of the pitch. Lee McCulloch made a poor job of clearing Mark McGuigan’s corner from the left, and Donnelly was there to steer the ball in from close range. Rangers tried to respond immediately, but their attacks lacked imagination, too many ending in hopeful crosses into the box which Neil Parry claimed comfortably.
The goalkeeper looked less secure after 20 minutes when Templeton got a clean header in from around the penalty spot, but the midfielder’s effort cleared the bar. By the midway point of the first half, the home support were already letting their frustrations be known, alternating between bemoaning the shortcomings of their own team and complaining about Rovers’ supposed time-wasting tactics. The visitors’ defence
remained calm as Rangers’ frustration increased, and when they did commit the odd lapse their opponents were unable to profit from it.
The best example of that came when a Templeton cross was not cleared at the first attempt, but as the ball lay unclaimed within the six-yard box no Rangers player was close enough to prod it home. After what seemed like an age but was in fact no more than a couple of seconds, Rovers cleared the danger. It was undeniably a lucky break for them, but no more than their enterprise deserved.
In the last minute of normal time before the break the pressure was increased, but Rangers were again foiled by resolute
defending. Parry could only block a fierce shot by Dean Shiels, but before McCulloch could pounce on the loose ball, Ross Dunlop thumped the ball clear. Play continued in the same vein after the restart. Within a minute McCulloch saw a shot curl agonisingly wide of the left post, then Parry saved a 20-yard shot by Ian Black. In the 50th minute the ball broke to an unmarked Daly on the right of the box, but the striker fired wide.
Rovers, improbably composed in the first half, were beginning to buckle under the strain. They still threatened the occasional breakout, but David Crawford, a substitute up front for the injured Christopher
Dallas, was largely reduced to chasing hopeful punts upfield.
At least he was mobile. When Rangers tried to build attacks from the back, too many of their players stood deep inside the Rovers half waiting for play to reach them instead of dropping short. Andrew Little came on for Shiels with just under half an hour to play, and was immediately involved in the build-up to what was nearly the equaliser. Foster’s chipped cross from the right was met by Templeton, but his volley hit the crossbar then went out of play.
Ten minutes on from that, a powerful drive from Mohsni was tipped over by Parry. The Frenchman was then moved up front by McCoist as centre-half Sébastien Faure came off the bench to replace Daly. It seemed to be a clear sign of desperation, but within three minutes it paid dividends.
A deep cross from the left by Templeton was dropping down beneath the crossbar and apparently into Parry’s arms, but Mohsni got there first, and back-headed the ball over the line. The defence to a man claimed there had been a foul on the goalkeeper, but referee John Beaton was having none of it.
Replays suggested his decision was correct, and Mohsni had won the ball fairly.
Far from being down and out, Rovers fought back and had three corners in quick succession as it became Rangers’ turn to look shaky at the back. The home team got back on top for the last five minutes of normal time, and Mohsni came close to snatching the win with a diving header from a Templeton cross. The addition of five minutes’ stoppage time was a further test for Rovers, several of whom had gone down with cramp. But they held on to take the tie into a
replay, and on this evidence will be looking forward to it a lot more than Rangers.
Rangers: Bell, Foster, Mohsni, McCulloch, Wallace, Aird, Black, Law, Templeton, Shiels (Little 62), Daly (Faure 74). Subs not used: Simonsen, Peralta, Crawford, Smith, Cribari.
Albion Rovers: Parry, Reid, M Dunlop, Russell (Flood 78), Donnelly, R Dunlop, Cusack (Kennedy 69), Chaplain, McGuigan, Dallas (Crawford 20), Phillips. Subs not used: McGinley, Walker, Innes, Tiffney.