The Betfred Cup continues to provide Rangers manager Mark Warburton with sweet relief amid the turbulence he is experiencing on other fronts so far this season.
On a night when many observers sensed a possible upset, the Ibrox side swatted aside in-form Championship leaders Queen of the South to reach the semi-finals of a tournament in which they have now scored 20 goals and conceded none in their six games so far.
The Joey Barton saga was set aside for 90 minutes as Martyn Waghorn grabbed a hat-trick after goals from Jason Holt and Andy Halliday had paved the way for a victory Warburton badly needed to ease the personal scrutiny he has been facing.
In the aftermath of their heavy Old Firm defeat and Barton’s subsequent suspension from the club, Rangers can now approach Sunday’s high profile trip to Aberdeen with at least a measure of buoyancy.
Despite his absence last night, the Barton narrative was impossible to ignore completely. Even Warburton’s choice of captain, with regular skipper Lee Wallace rested because of a slight knock, carried a topical resonance.
Halliday, who was at the eye of the training ground storm which led to Barton’s banishment, wore the armband. If it was intended to be some kind of statement from the manager, it played well with the home support who welcomed the sight of a man they regard as one of their own leading Rangers out.
There was a late disruption to Warburton’s plans when Josh Windass pulled up injured in the warm-up, prompting Niko Kranjcar to be promoted from the bench into the starting line-up.
While Rangers predictably dominated possession throughout, much of their early work lacked the necessary tempo or incision to significantly trouble the Queens defence.
The Dumfries men, who came into the tie on a seven-match winning streak in all competitions, looked as dangerous on the counter attack as Rangers’ back line appeared vulnerable to it. Danny Wilson picked up a booking after just 11 minutes for halting a Dale Hilson raid on the edge of the box. Stephen Dobbie was unable to profit from the free-kick, blazing his effort high into the Copland Road stand.
Harry Forrester, restored to the starting line-up for the first time in three games, looked eager to prove his demotion to the bench for the league fixtures against Celtic and Ross County had been unmerited.
The winger demanded the ball constantly and was the driving force behind Rangers gradually increasing the pace and urgency of their play. After a clever link-up with Lee Hodson down the left, Forrester produced his team’s first real attempt at goal in the 19th minute when his shot was deflected just wide.
Kranjcar drew a few groans from the Rangers fans as some of his attempts to pierce the visitors’ defence in a congested final third of the pitch went badly astray. But the Croatian midfielder would not be discouraged from his attempts to produce the kind of telling contribution required to make the breakthrough.
He duly delivered it in the 33rd minute, his lofted pass picking out Michael O’Halloran on the right side of the penalty area. O’Halloran surged past Queens left-back Jordan Marshall before cutting the ball into the path of Holt who stabbed home a right foot volley from close range.
Suddenly, Rangers were swarming all over Queens as they looked to press home their advantage. Clint Hill headed straight at Lee Robinson from a Kranjcar corner, Waghorn saw a close range shot blocked and then Hodson fired a shot narrowly over as the hosts cranked up the pressure.
They had to settle for their single goal lead at half-time and began the second period with scorer Holt replaced by Barrie McKay. The momentum remained very much with Rangers, although there was a reminder the tie was not yet won when Derek Lyle shot just over in a rare but dangerous counter from Queens.
Rangers heeded the warning, although not before Forrester was extremely fortunate only to be cautioned by referee Don Robertson for a dangerous studs-up foul on Marshall in the 59th minute. It looked like a clear red card offence.
Three minutes later, Rangers made it 2-0. It was a sweet moment for Halliday who met McKay’s cutback with a precise left foot shot from around eight yards which beat Robinson to his left. The midfielder pointedly kissed the badge on his shirt as he celebrated.
The floodgates had opened for Rangers who added number three just a minute later. McKay was again the provider, this time picking out Waghorn on the edge of the penalty area for the burly striker to direct a sweetly struck left foot shot beyond Robinson’s right hand into the corner of the net.
Rangers were in no mood to simply ease their way towards the final whistle which now couldn’t come quickly enough for Queens.
Waghorn made it 4-0 in the 71st minute, making no mistake from close range after being teed up by O’Halloran’s cross from the right. A third hat-trick in Rangers colours was now firmly in Waghorn’s sights and he secured it with seven minutes remaining, steering home another precise left foot shot after latching onto Kranjcar’s pass.