RANGERS took another step towards a second successive Petrofac Training Cup final as they eased to a 2-0 win over quarter-final opponents East Fife last night.
Scorers: Rangers - Scorers: Daly (29) Black (57)
Jon Daly and Ian Black netted to tee up a last-four clash with Alloa at the Indodrill Stadium.
The hosts had been struggling to get enough fit bodies together to fulfil the fixture. Injuries and illness forcing manager Gary Naysmith to leave some blank spaces when he submitted a team-sheet with only four substitutes listed. Up against a Rangers team that was full of quality and confidence after their weekend demolition of Raith Rovers, the task that had looked onerous for the League 2 team when they were first pitched against their Govan opponents, seemed nigh on impossible.
Such was the strength in depth of Ally McCoist’s squad, the Rangers manager was able to reshuffle the pack and leave the likes of Kenny Miller, Kris Boyd and Lewis MacLeod on the bench, while rewarding Daly for his two late goals on Saturday with a place in the starting line up. Spoiled for choice in the attacking areas, the Ibrox manager had spoken of how unlucky Nicky Clark had been to miss out on an appearance in the Championship game but in this knockout competitiion he was given his opportunity.
It was his ball in to the edge of the six-yard box that led to the breakthrough. Crossing in from the right, the forward swung in a pass which Black should have sent past the East Fife keeper but the midfielder couldn’t get a good enough connection and as the ball trundled forward, it was Daly, lurking on the goallines who was able to see it safely into the net before anyone in East Fife colours could intervene.
Despite their problems, the Methil men started the match with a bit of bravado and a couple of early corners, but in the fourth minute David Templeton, on the overlap, took possession before cutting inside and firing off a low shot which was scooped up by the properly positioned Allan Fleming.
The keeper did all that was asked of him in the 12th minute as well when Fraser Aird supplied the ammunition from deep on the right and Daly rose unhindered to get a knock-down at the back post but Templeton’s close-range effort was blocked by Fleming who made sure the winger had little goal to aim for, getting his body in the way to block and keep the scoreline blank.
There was a degree of frustration in the ranks of the travelling support. On a freezing cold night in Methil, they had probably made the journey in the hope of back-to-back maulings of Fife sides but the lack of an early goal agitated them and they took that out on the home players, berating them whenever they suspected them of time-wasting and play-acting. There were a couple of those instances in quick succession and the flow of the game was disrupted as they waited for the physio.
But the majority of the grumbling was directed at their own team, who were far from firing on all cylinders. The gap in quality that should have been glaringly obvious materialised only fleetingly. They were the better team and they created the better chances but they weren’t exactly scything through the home rearguard and laying seige to their goal.
McCulloch tried to add the second five minutes into the second half but he volleyed it into the turf and it bounced up for Fleming to gather and Clark could have done better when he had a glimpse at the target but the lack of a decentt cushion and the slow tempo of the Rangers display was a source of contention for the Rangers support who wanted their team to move up through the gears and settle any doubts. The players, though, seemed to lack their sense of urgency and railing against the narkiness of his own support, Richard Foster only succeeded in enraging them further.
In fact the full-back can thank his team-mate Black for distracting them shortly after that outburst. Given a free-kick about 25 yards out, the midfielder rifled a shot goalwards and, taking a helpful deflection on it’s way past the defensive wall, he gave McCoist’s men breathing space.
The lower league side continued to hustle and bustle, they continued to try to pass the ball about in the hope something would open up in front of them, and they did manage the occassional foray into the final third, but there was little danger of them conjuring up enough to overhaul a two-goal deficit. Even when they tried to shake things up, Rangers simply did the same and only one manager was able to throw a trio of full internationals into the mix.
It wasn’t a vintage Rangers performance but, on the night, thankfully for them, it didn’t have to be. East Fife put up as much of a fight as they could but it was flyweight v heavyweight from the outset.
East Fife: Fleming, Mullen, S Campbell, Moyes, Walker, McAleer (R Campbell, 69), Brown, McShane (Maskrey, 86), Austin (Falconer, 79), Barr, Beaton. Subs not used: Miller .
Rangers: Simonsen, Foster, McGregor, Wallace, McCulloch, Law (Shiels, 69), Black, Daly (Miller, 69), Templeton, Clark (Boyd, 80), Aird. Subs not used: Robinson, Smith, Moshni, MacLeod..