Steven Gerrard joked he had heard more about Central Park in the run-up to this tie than before he played at the Nou Camp for the first time. He was content to see Rangers display a level of professionalism they would have employed had they been playing Barcelona on a freezing night in Fife.
Out early for the warm-up, they kept their focus on the task in hand. Out-of-favour players such as Kyle Lafferty combined with those trying to reach peak fitness such as Jermain Defoe to help Rangers reach a fifth-round appointment with Kilmarnock. Rugby Park is another venue at which Gerrard will know Rangers must keep their wits about them in order to progress.
The Ibrox side did their heavy lifting in the first half last night. Andy Halliday, pictured, Lassana Coulibaly and Lafferty earned them a 3-0 half-time lead. The outcome might now have seemed guaranteed but the early goals seemed to harden the resolve of the hosts from League 2 to make a game of it.
Cowdenbeath got the goal their efforts deserved shortly after half-time. David Cox slammed in the rebound after substitute Harvey Swann’s effort was saved by Wes Foderingham a couple of minutes after the interval. Jon Flanagan had been penalised for barging into Kris Renton.
It provided those home fans in the crowd of 4,116 with reason to cheer. Also helping provide compensation was the knowledge this was a lucrative night for the hosts. But there was further succour to be taken in the way they took the game to Rangers in the second half. The away fans grew disgruntled with the direction the game was taking after such a comfortable opening half.
Some sloppy defending nearly let in Robbie Buchanan. Foderingham scampered out to clear the ball only to see it ricochet off Buchanan’s back. The keeper was relieved to see the ball bounce narrowly wide. Cowdenbeath skipper Kyle Miller also lifted a shot just over the top. With Rangers expected to be the ones upping their game in the second half against their part-time opponents, this was difficult to accept for the away fans.
There was no place in the Rangers side for Matt Polster, who was not registered in time. It might have been too much of a culture shock for the new signing from Chicago Fire to be pitched straight into the side for a trip to Central Park.
On a night when Liverpool were bidding to pull seven points clear at the top of the English Premier League this was one of the more surreal experiences of Gerrard’s storied career. He stood outside the away dug-out and surveyed a scene of discarded tyres on a dirt track that skirts the pitch. The dusting of snow made it all seem almost picturesque.
There was nothing for Rangers to be sniffy about. They had failed to win here on their last visit five years ago when in the Championship. A 0-0 draw highlighted just how inhospitable this venue can prove.
Cowdenbeath “won” on the pairs of gloves count; none to Rangers’ three. One of those wearing them was Defoe, surely one of the most high-profile players to have played here. He is certainly among the wealthiest. He had a part to play in the first two Rangers goals and will be happy to have his first full 90 minutes under his belt since his arrival in Scotland.
Defoe fed Halliday on the edge of the box after 12 minutes and the skipper feigned to shoot with his right foot before driving into the right-hand corner of the goal with his left. Cowdenbeath were then forced into a change when Jason Talbot fell awkwardly just off the pitch after a challenge by Lafferty. There was no discarded tyre involved.
Swann came on and Rangers pulled two ahead after 26 minutes. Lafferty flicked on a Steven Davis corner which Defoe tried to bundle in. The ball came back to Coulibaly, who thumped it high into the net. Lafferty made it three on the stroke of half-time when latching on to a long through ball from Ryan Jack and poking the ball past David McGurn.
Cowdenbeath kept going right to the end. Swann emphasised this by blocking from Rangers debutant Jordan Houston, who replaced Daniel Candeias, at the death. The Rangers fans were already filing out. Gerrard was quick to shake the hand of opposite number Gary Bollan, a former Ibrox full-back, at the end. The Rangers manager knew his side had been made to work to gain their ticket for the next round.