After a tepid first half at Ibrox, two goals inside four minutes by top goalscorer Jon Daly early in the second half set Rangers on the road to the fourth round of the William Hill Scottish Cup.
Scorers: Rangers: Daly (49), (53) Templeton (80)
Not for the first time this season, Rangers outclassed their opponents and in Daly they had a man who was notching his 13th and 14th goals of the season and whom manager Ally McCoist hailed afterwards as “a very, very important player for us both on and off the park.”
McCoist explained: “He’s done everything I dreamed of and he is a great man to have about the club. I still think there’s more to come from him.”
Ostensibly this was a lower league Scottish Cup match with a potential tie against a Premiership club at stake, so where was the passion and the rancour normally associated with such occasions? The truth is that Rangers were a class apart from their fellow League One side.
There was the odd agricultural tackle, nearly all of them by Airdrie, but there was no blood and thunder about this curiously anodyne affair. Indeed it took referee John Beaton until the 75th minute to reach for his yellow card when Gregor Buchanan committed one foul too many.
The shocking news in midweek that former Rangers captain Fernando Ricksen has contracted motor neurone disease at the age of 37 is still being digested by the fans who loved his wholehearted commitment to the club. It made them forgive his occasional waywardness. The old Abba hit Fernando was given a rousing reception when played over the sound system.
With Rangers wearing black armbands to commemorate former players Norrie Martin and Dave McFarlane, there was an almost subdued air about them. A better team than Airdrie might have made some profit out of Rangers’ muted approach, but the visitors set out their stall to defend in depth and who can blame new manager Gary Bollan for those tactics after the 0-6 drubbing they took at home in August?
From the kick-off, Rangers dominated play and won two corners inside the first two minutes though they made nothing of them. As the clock reached three – Ricksen’s shirt number – the Rangers support stood as one and applauded for a full minute. The Dutchman need have no worries about the backing he is guaranteed at Ibrox.
After emergency loan signing Tony Bullock parried away Kyle Hutton’s blistering shot, the home fans had a scare when Lee McCulloch mishit his clearance off Jamie Bain’s cross, but Cammy Bell saved his captain’s blushes. It was the only serious save the Rangers goalkeeper had to make in the half.
With Airdrie offering virtually nothing in attack, Rangers could afford to be patient as they repeatedly probed forward in a bid to pierce Airdrie’s stout defence marshaled by Martin Hardie.
With Arnold Peralta and Nicky Law in the vanguard – some of Law’s long cross-field passing was sublime – Rangers poured into attack but too many balls went astray in the final third, though Lewis MacLeod almost found a way through with a clever lob after 24 minutes that went slightly too wide and high.
Daly headed a Peralta cross wide before Nicky Clark scorned the best chance of the match until that point, miscuing his header off a pinpoint Law cross. When McCulloch headed Peralta’s corner against the outside of the post in the 38th minute, there were no doubt a few home fans who began to worry if this was going to be one of those nights when Rangers had all the play but couldn’t find the net.
It took less than four minutes into the second half for that concern to be quashed. Peralta’s cross from the right was missed by everyone in the box and the ball travelled all the way to Daly standing in splendid isolation for the first time. He took a moment to pick his spot and buried his low shot in Bullock’s left hand corner.
Less than four minutes later, Daly had his and Rangers’ second. Law’s sumptuous cross into the gap between the rear line of the defence and Bullock saw Daly advance speedily and athletically to leap and head home.
Rangers, having effectively booked their place in the fourth round, continued to press while Airdrie just seemed to accept their fate.
A real talking point after 63 minutes was referee Beaton’s decision to award an indirect free kick for obstruction when the ball became trapped under an Airdrie body. McCulloch blasted the shot against the ten-man wall, but the siege of Airdrie’s goal barely lifted.
Bullock blocked Wallace’s shot before McCulloch headed over and then Daly scorned a hat-trick chance as Rangers exerted total control, exemplified by their third goal, substitute David Templeton side-footing home after 79 minutes following a swift run and accurate cross by Law.
The sole Airdrieonian up front, James Lister, finally got a shot on goal but Bell saved it easily and Rangers coasted home.
The question now is who their former centre forward, Sir Alex Ferguson, will pair them with when the fourth round draw is made in Aberdeen on Tuesday.
McCoist said: “I would take a home tie which would be great. That’s all you can ask for. I wouldn’t start singling out teams that we would want or want to avoid, I don’t think we are in a position to do that.
“If we get a Premiership side we’ll just have to deal with that when it comes. We have a group of players who have had top SPL experience so I would be very hopeful that we could give a good account of ourselves against a top team.”
Rangers: Bell, Foster, McCulloch, Mohsni, Wallace, Peralta (Aird 81), Hutton, MacLeod (Templeton 66), Law, Daly, Clark (Little 70). Subs not used: Simonsen, Crawford, Faure, Steven Smith.
Airdrieonians: Bullock, Buchanan, Drummond, McCormack, Patrick Boyle, Bain (Coogans 86), Sinclair, Hardie, Blockley, Lister, Coult (Watt 57). Subs not used: O’Byrne, McLaren, Duncan, Barclay.
Referee: J Beaton