BELEAGUERED Rangers caretaker manager Kenny McDowall has admitted he and his players cannot blame their latest cup embarrassment on the ongoing off-field turmoil at the club.
Rangers lost at home to Raith Rovers for the first time since 1959 yesterday, goals from Ryan Conroy and Christian Nade earning the Kirkcaldy club a 2-1 victory and a place in the last eight of the Scottish Cup.
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The tie was watched by a crowd of just 11,422, with many supporters staying away amid the current bitter battle for boardroom control at Ibrox.
But while the circumstances surrounding his tenure are chaotic, McDowall offered no plea in mitigation for Rangers’ elimination from the tournament. Having already lost to Alloa and Celtic in the respective semi-finals of the Challenge Cup and League Cup this season, it leaves Rangers with only their faltering bid for promotion to the Premiership to focus on.
“We lost the match today because of what happened on the park, not off it,” said McDowall. “I wouldn’t use the small crowd as an excuse. At the end of the day we are professionals who are paid to play and coach for Rangers. It’s our duty – we get paid and we have to turn up and do our work.
“I would just apologise to the fans that we’ve been knocked out of another cup. They come to watch their team and they pay good money and it’s our job to try to get a win on the day and we have failed so we apologise.
“I’m bitterly disappointed. I thought it was a tight affair up to half-time. I thought we were well in it. I told the boys to be patient. I thought if we could get in front we would have gone on to win it fairly comfortably. But yet again we’ve given ourselves an uphill struggle by conceding cheap goals. It’s hard enough playing teams without giving them goals of a start. Until we lost the first goal, I thought we were doing well. We were well in the game.
“But goals change games, it’s a cup tie, we’ve lost two cheap goals – just like last week against Celtic – and it makes life difficult if you continue to do that. It’s tough to take but we have just got to get on with it – there’s still a long way to go in the league campaign. We have got to lift ourselves up and start winning football games.”
Rangers’ goal, which levelled the tie at 1-1, was scored by Haris Vuckic, one of the five Newcastle United players signed on loan last week. Defender Remie Streete was the only other one of them to play but he limped off before half-time. “Haris did very well and Remie was doing well until he got his injury,” added McDowall. “Haris took his goal well and contributed well to the team.”
Asked if his revelation that he had been ordered to play all five players when fit had an adverse effect on the morale of the rest of his squad, McDowall declined to offer a view. “I’ve covered that and I am not going to go back over it,” he replied. “At the end of the day we had a cup tie to win and we’ve lost it 2-1 mainly due to conceding two goals that we shouldn’t have. The mood in our dressing room is low and they are as disappointed as I would expect. They know they should have won the game and they’ve not done it.”
Rovers had lost 6-1 and 4-0 to Rangers in the two league meetings between the teams so far this season but Grant Murray’s side appeared confident from the opening minutes yesterday that they could reverse that trend.
That conviction was vindicated as they earned the club’s first win over Rangers at Ibrox since Jim Baxter scored in a 3-2 win for Rovers on 21 November 1959. “I’m delighted for the players and everyone involved in the club,” said manager Murray. “I think in the end we deserved it.
“We got pinned back after taking the lead but the players kept going and they’re delighted. Coming to places like this is huge for any club. The players stepped up to the plate today. They gave me everything and even when Rangers equalised, we never let our heads go down.
“There was a lot of attention around this tie after the players Rangers brought in during the week. But we had to focus on ourselves. Come 3pm, those 11 Rangers players would be playing to win. The pitch is the one place you can switch off from everything and we knew it would be difficult.
“It was tough out there. Rangers had a lot of the ball and we had to defend as a team. But we did that and hit them on the counter-attack on numerous occasions and were worthy of the win in the end. I’m not bothered who we get in the next round. After beating Rangers, I just want to let the heart settle down. A home draw would be good but everyone wants that. At this moment, we are just delighted to be in the next round.”
Rovers match-winner Nade revealed he and his team-mates had travelled to Ibrox fully expecting to secure a place in today’s quarter-final draw. “We came here to win and that’s what we did,” said Nade. “It’s probably a shock for everyone else but not for us. We knew we had a chance to win after watching their defeat against Celtic last week because their confidence would not be the best. So we came here looking to take our chance.
“We lost 6-1 the last time we were here and didn’t think it was deserved, so we came here trying to be focused on keeping our shape and it worked for us. Even when they scored to make it 1-1, I still believed that we could win. We just needed to create chances and we knew we could do that. It feels good.”