For the first time since Walter Smith was guiding them to silverware during his second spell in charge, Rangers have won six consecutive matches as a top flight club.
Graeme Murty is still in the infancy of his attempt to prove himself capable of following in the footsteps of major trophy-winning managers at Ibrox but this convincing Scottish Cup quarter-final victory over an ultimately outclassed Falkirk side keeps him in contention to do so this season.
A first career hat-trick for Jason Cummings was the key to this latest win which keeps the feelgood factor very much alive for Murty’s squad as they now prepare for the acid test of Celtic’s visit in the Premiership next Sunday.
Rangers were grateful for the deadliness in front of goal displayed by Cummings, in the starting line-up as a replacement for the injured Jamie Murphy, on a day when their top scorer Alfredo Morelos endured a wretchedly frustrating 90 minutes.
Cummings has been used mainly as a substitute since joining on loan from Nottingham Forest in January but this was a contribution which has done his prospects of facing the Scottish champions next weekend no harm at all.
Falkirk captain Aaron Muirhead was also a central figure in the tie, scoring at both ends of the pitch, but the defender was fortunate his afternoon did not come to a premature end in the 19th minute when he escaped with only a yellow card from referee Craig Thomson after aiming a punch to the groin of David Bates.
The young Rangers centre-back, unsurprisingly, needed some time to get his breath back after the eye-watering blow and the sheepish look on Muirhead’s face suggested he knew how lucky he was not to be seeing red.
The incident came just three minutes after Cummings had given Rangers the lead when he latched onto a piercing pass from Daniel Candeias and took full advantage of the time and space afforded him inside the penalty area by the Falkirk defence. As goalkeeper Robbie Thomson advanced from his line, Cummings coolly found the net with a lofted shot from a tight angle.
The breakthrough goal was a reflection of Rangers’ early dominance but the lead lasted just four minutes. When the hosts struggled to clear a free-kick, Craig Sibbald’s shot was diverted beyond Jak Alnwick by Muirhead, although it was debatable just how much the Falkirk skipper knew about his part in a goal he celebrated lustily.
But there was precious little time for Muirhead or the sizeable Falkirk support to enjoy the moment as Rangers regained the advantage just a minute later.
It was another poor goal to concede from a defensive perspective as the Falkirk players again stood off Cummings as he collected a low cross from Andy Halliday. That said, there was much to admire in the touch and poise of Cummings as he turned and guided a low shot into the corner of the net.
Falkirk’s response to the setback was positive as they attempted to take the tie to Rangers whenever possible. The home defence, with Bruno Alves back in the starting line-up for the first time since December, didn’t always look assured, especially at crosses.
Louis Longridge was narrowly off target with a couple of decent efforts then came even closer to another leveller for Falkirk with a well struck free-kick which forced a fine save from Alnwick.
But just as the Championship club were growing in confidence and ambition, they conceded an unfortunate third goal just a minute before half-time. The Falkirk defence were caught out by a quickly taken free-kick on the right by Rangers which saw Candeias find room to fire the ball across the face of the six yard box. With Cummings and Morelos both lurking, Muirhead inadvertently sent the ball past Thomson.
It was clearly an own goal, despite the Ibrox PA announcer charitably attributing it to Cummigs. He would have to wait before completing his treble.
Rangers remained in control after the break and would have racked up a far greater winning margin had Morelos not been so wasteful in front of goal. The Colombian was badly out of touch, surrendering possession cheaply on countless occasions and strangely lacking in conviction inside the penalty area.
A tame shot straight at Thomson, after he had been set up by fine work from Greg Docherty and Daniel Candeias, summed up Morelos’ afternoon.
This was very much Cummings’ day and he was rewarded with his hat-trick goal in the 75th minute. Rangers broke swiftly through the hard-working Candeias and Josh Windass continued the move with a neat pass to Morelos. Yet again, he was unable to execute what should have been a simple finish but when Thomson blocked his close range shot, the ball broke to Cummings who tucked it home from close range.
It wasn’t Rangers best performance in the recent run of results which has boosted the confidence of their supporters as they approach the business end of the season. But in making it six wins on the bounce as a first tier club for the first time since 2010, it was another sign of the progress being made under Murty.
RANGERS: Alnwick, Tavernier, Alves, Bates, Halliday; Docherty, Goss (Holt 68); Candeias (Miller 80), Windass (Dodoo 80), Cummings; Morelos. Subs not used: Foderingham, Herrera, Hodson, Martin.
FALKIRK: Thomson, Tumilty, Muirhead, Grant (Harris 71), McGhee, Robson; Longridge, Taiwo (McKee 58), Sibbald, Nelson; Jakubiak. Subs not used: Hazard, Kidd, Blair, Loy, Watson.