TWO first-half goals on his competitive debut by Nicky Law set Rangers in the way to a comfortable win yesterday in the first round of the Ramsdens Challenge Cup.
Scorers: Law (25, 43), Black (70), Templeton (73)
Further strikes after the break by Ian Black and David Templeton snuffed out any resistance from Albion Rovers, who had moved their home fixture to Livingston’s ground in order to admit a bigger crowd.
Besides the goals, there was also a commendably focused display in defence by the visiting team. At 4-0 up the Rangers back four could easily have lost concentration as Albion Rovers threw a lot of energy into what would have been no more than a consolation goal. Instead, they stuck to their task in a self-disciplined and professional way.
With only two trialists allowed per match, Rangers manager Ally McCoist opted to give new signings Law and Jon Daly their competitive debuts, alongside goalkeeper Scott Gallacher and Kyle McAusland, a late replacement in defence for Emilson Cribari. Rovers also fielded a trialist, David Crawford, in their starting line-up, and had another, Darren Miller, on the bench.
The match began quietly, and in a manner reminiscent of so many of Rangers’ outings in the Third Division last season. They dominated territorially, and were clearly the more technically able team, yet found it hard to break down well-organised opponents.
The first real threat to Neil Parry’s goal came with more than 20 minutes played, when Jon Daly stretched down low to chest a ball into the path of Andrew Little. The striker directed his shot well, but it lacked the power to trouble the Rovers goakkeeper.
Having maintained their shape well up to that point, the home team were caught out a few minutes later when they ventured too far upfield and lost possession. Sensing the opportunity of a sudden break, Lewis MacLeod set Lee Wallace free up the wing.
Even before he reached the ball, the left-back had spotted Law ghosting in on the blind side of the defence beyond the back post. Wallace found Law with an outswinging cross, and the former Motherwell player got a strong sidefoot to the ball to leave Parry no chance.
The most impressive player going forward in the first half, Wallace was just as influential in defence, as he showed by getting across to the right-back position to snuff out a rare Rovers break.
Coming with some 40 minutes played, that looked like being the last significant action before the break, but then up stepped Law again. When a short corner from Wallace reached him on the left edge of the box, an opening was not immediately apparent. But the midfielder deftly made space for himself, then curled a delightful effort into the far corner of the net.
Besides their rare forays upfield, Rovers’ most significant actions of the half had been to pick up two bookings.
Michael Dunlop, elder brother of defender Ross, was first to receive a yellow card after a lunging tackle, and then Peter Innes was booked for dissent as the teams left the pitch at half-time.
New Albion manager James Ward made a change at the start of the second half, bringing Scott Chaplain on up front in place of Josh Flood. But the change of personnel did nothing to alter the complexion of the match, as Rangers maintained a firm grip, if not quite a stranglehold, on proceedings.
Already the most important player in the game thanks to his goals, Law became increasingly influential in open play as Rovers’ resistance weakened and their frustration grew. Kevin Nicoll provided evidence of that emotion with an intemperate tackle on Wallace which led to him becoming the third member of his team to be booked.
Nonetheless, the aggression shown by the home side, while misplaced on occasions such as that, did at least ensure that the contest was not entirely over. It did not look likely that they would score, but for as long as they were only two behind, they at least had a slight hope of pulling themselves back into the game.
David Templeton replaced Lewis MacLeod just after Ryan Tiffney had come on for Innes, then a few minutes after the latter change, Rangers grabbed their third. Daly had had an unmemorable debut up to that point, but when he saw his chance to make an impact he wasted no timing in taking it, sending Ian Black clear with a well-weighted pass. With the goal at his mercy, Black made no mistake, scoring from around ten yards with a low drive across the face of goal.
Templeton, with what could have been his first touch, then made it four with a blistering drive. The former Hearts player showed last season that once he has his sights set on goal he needs no second invitation to shoot, and he showed that again here, firing home from outside the box.
That produced a final score which perhaps underplayed Rovers’ wholehearted contribution to the game. But it was also indicative of Rangers’ ability – so often absent last season – to make their superiority count.
Albion Rovers: Parry, Reid, R Dunlop, Innes, Donnelly, M Dunlop, Crawford, Nicoll, McGuigan, Flood, Phillips
Rangers: Gallacher; Faure, McCulloch, Cribari, Wallace; Black; Crawford, Law, Macleod; Little, Daly