Donald Findlay, the Cowdenbeath chairman, might have fretted over remembering which dressing room to visit to wish his team good luck. But Rangers, helped by a Martyn Waghorn hat-trick, made no mistake in dealing with their League 1 opponents to seal a place in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup.
There was one slight scare, however. Having enjoyed almost near total domination in a first half in which they hit two goals, Rangers were hit by a classic sucker punch just before half-time, when Dean Brett clipped in a magnificent free-kick. This superb strike cut the deficit to one. The fact this remained the case for as long as it did was due to the 15-minute break for half-time.
In fact, Cowdenbeath were only able to stay so close to their hosts for what amounted to six or so minutes of actual play. But Findlay, the former Ibrox vice-chairman, and Colin Nish, the Cowdenbeath manager, could still be proud of their players’ efforts.
Waghorn restored Rangers’ two-goal lead just two minutes after the re-start with a powerful drive. He would later complete a second-half hat-trick with two more goals from the spot to exorcise the memory of two previous missed penalties, including one in the dying moments of the recent defeat by Falkirk. He has now scored 25 goals for the season, making him Britain’s top scorer.
Waghorn’s second of the afternoon arrived ten minutes into the second half after James Tavernier was upended by a poor challenge from defender Fraser Kerr.
At 4-1, Rangers’ thoughts could turn to who they might face in the next round, with former player Brian Laudrup helping make the draw this evening. With Rangers having now scored four, six and five goals in their last three outings, few will welcome being drawn to face the Ibrox side.
Lee Wallace and Barrie McKay sent Rangers on their way with early strikes. The first was a particularly well-worked move involving McKay, Waghorn, Kenny Miller and Wallace, who sent a left-foot angled drive through keeper James Sneddon’s legs.
Sneddon could not do what he had managed a few minutes earlier when blocking Miller’s effort from an acute angle with an outstretched foot. But he was helped on other occasions by defenders willing to throw themselves in front of the ball in order to keep their side within touching distance of Rangers. Gedion Zelalem cut a frustrated figure as he watched one shot spin past the post due to a block.
Rangers were given a reminder they couldn’t afford to relax when ex-Hearts striker Gordon Smith bundled Dominic Ball off the ball and made some headway towards goal. Tavernier snuffed out the danger before issuing some words of rebuke to his defensive partner for being so easily bullied. Rangers were the ones handing out the harshest lessons, however. A McKay right-footed curled effort after 33 minutes put them two in front before Brett encouraged the few hundred visiting fans to dream with a superb free-kick after 41 minutes. The midfielder was given the opportunity after Ball was penalised for bundling over Greig Spence on the edge of the box. Brett directed a well-hit free-kick over the wall and towards the top corner, where it hit the underside of the bar and bounced down into the net.
Waghorn could have struck in the few minutes that remained before half-time but sent his shot on the turn just wide of the post. However, he found his range in the second half – particularly from 12 yards. He completed his second hat-trick of the season with 12 minutes left when he converted into the same corner of the net as his first penalty after Tavenier’s slalom into the box was halted by a late challenge by Chris Kane.
The visitors rightly accepted the applause of their fans at the end. They have other business to attend to this season as they seek to secure a promotion play-off place. So do Rangers of course in their efforts to return to the top flight. But the Scottish Cup remains on their radar. Now it’s over to that man Laudrup, to see what he can produce from the hat.