WHEN he finds himself in times of trouble, it seems Ally McCoist can always count on a cup victory over Premiership opposition to provide him with some breathing space.
Scorers: Rangers - Law (19, 83), Boyd (71)
For all of the criticism directed at the Rangers manager for his team’s struggle to impose themselves in the Championship title race this season, their record in the cups has been impeccable so far. This convincing Scottish Cup fourth round win over Kilmarnock provided them with their third top-flight scalp of the campaign after previous League Cup wins over Inverness and St Johnstone.
Two goals from Nicky Law, either side of a strike from substitute Kris Boyd, booked Rangers’ place in today’s fifth-round draw at the expense of a listless Kilmarnock outfit who have now lost their last five matches.
It was witnessed by a crowd of less than 15,000 in what remain deeply troubled times for Rangers off the pitch.
This was Kilmarnock’s first visit to Ibrox since February 2012 when they won 1-0 in what was Rangers’ first fixture after being placed into administration by Craig Whyte. On that occasion, the stadium was packed to capacity in an act of defiant solidarity from the home fans.
The contrast yesterday could hardly have been more stark, with swathes of empty blue seats underlining the deep sense of disillusionment among a Rangers support sickened by the ongoing financial crisis at their club.
That feeling, of course, has also been augmented by unhappiness at the style of football being produced by McCoist’s team. But, despite it all, Rangers did come into this match still in contention for all four competitions on their schedule this season.
Against a Kilmarnock side whose early season promise has dissipated significantly in recent weeks, it was Rangers who started with the greater vigour and tempo. They were good value for their half-time lead.
Richard Foster, pressed into service as an emergency left-back in the absence of the injured Lee Wallace and suspended Stevie Smith, sparked the home team’s first promising moment with a surging run and cutback to Lewis Macleod, who sliced a shot across the face of goal and wide.
Kilmarnock responded with Ross Barbour making ground down the right and crossing for Rory McKenzie, whose shot was comfortably held by Steve Simonson, while there was an anxious moment for Rangers captain Lee McCulloch when he deflected Alexei Eremenko’s shot just inches wide of his own goal.
But it was the home side who generally looked the more progressive and threatening. Their 19th-minute breakthrough came after a burst of sustained pressure. Darren McGregor’s long throw-in from the right was only cleared as far as Fraser Aird, who managed to stab the ball into the path of Law just outside the penalty area.
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The English midfielder connected sweetly with his right-foot shot and the ball also took a slight deflection off the head of Killie midfielder Sammy Clingan, giving goalkeeper Craig Samson no chance as it soared high into his net.
Rangers looked to cash in on that momentum and Macleod saw a stinging left-foot shot from around 25 yards saved by Samson. The hosts then had a penalty appeal turned down, Kilmarnock right-back Barbour having to time a risky sliding challenge on Kenny Miller perfectly to deny the Rangers striker what looked a certain goal.
Ian Black was next to try his luck from distance for Rangers, his shot slipping narrowly wide of Samson’s left hand post after a fine move involving Macleod, Miller and Law.
Rangers finished the first half in the ascendancy with Jon Daly squandering a decent chance to double their lead just before the interval when he directed a timid shot straight at Samson after being set up by Miller.
Kilmarnock were more positive at the start of the second half, finally showing the kind of urgency and desire which should be a given in a Scottish Cup tie. But, although the pace of Tope Obadeyi on the left began to cause Rangers some anxiety, Johnston’s team struggled to translate their improved play into any clear-cut chances.
Rangers continued to carry the greater menace whenever they got the ball into the attacking third of the pitch and Macleod might have done better than blaze a volley wildly over the top from Aird’s cross in the 58th minute.
McCoist decided on a wholesale swap of his strike pairing with just over 20 minutes remaining, Boyd and Nicky Clark replacing Daly and Miller, and it reaped a rich dividend for the Rangers manager.
Less than two minutes after making the double substitution, Rangers secured the comfort of their second goal. The identity of the scorer would simply have fulfilled a sense of dreaded inevitability among the travelling Kilmarnock fans.
Boyd scored 14 times in 15 appearances for Rangers against his former club after moving from Rugby Park to Ibrox back in 2006. He wasted no time in causing them further pain here, turning sharply to drill home a right foot shot from close range after Samson had flapped weakly at McCulloch’s header back across goal from an Aird corner.
Rangers added a flourish to the final scoreline with another fine goal from Law seven minutes from time. Macleod and Foster combined down the left to work the ball into Law’s path and he stepped inside to curl a terrific right foot beyond Samson’s left hand into the top corner of the net from around
Rangers: Simonsen, McGregor, McCulloch, Mohsni, Foster; Aird, Black, Law, Macleod (Shiels 86); Daly (Boyd 69), Miller (Clark 69). Subs not used: Robinson, Templeton, Faure, Hutton.
Kilmarnock: Samson, Barbour, Connolly, Pascali, Chantler; Clingan, Slater (Hamill 60); McKenzie, Eremenko (Muirhead 60), Obadeyi (Magennis 82); Miller. Subs not used: Brennan, Johnston, Ashcroft, Westlake.
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