Scorer: MacLeod 78
The match only came to life in the final 15 minutes but, having kept their Premiership guests at bay for the preceding 75 minutes and come up with few real chances of their own, Rangers found the necessary breakthrough. It came in the 78th minute and signalled a frantic finish but in the end they held on to advance to the next round of the League Cup to face Falkirk.
It’s two years since these teams last met. In the time since, the Ibrox side have been focusing on climbing back up through the leagues virtually unchallenged, whereas the Highland side, having long since made that ascent, have been consolidating their position in the top half of the top tier.
Defensively strong, John Hughes’ side conceded their first league goals of the season on Saturday in succumbing to their first defeat. But this was their chance to get things back on track, the chance to remind Rangers that while they have had their minds elsewhere, their former foes have not been standing still, awaiting their return, even if the money spent on assembling the squad remains a fraction of the funds laid out by their Govan counterparts.
For Rangers, there was plenty at stake. With the dark clouds refusing to shift from over the club, and off-the-field matters continuing to poison the mood in the camp, the large sections of empty stands again underlined the fans’ disillusionment. The expectations of those who did turn up were apparently not tempered to take into account that fact they were up against a team from a higher division. The frustration levels soared as the first half wore on. It was understandable as the home side had more opportunities to take the lead and squandered every one.
The best of them fell to seasoned campaigners. Kris Boyd was gifted unexpected passage through on goal in the 16th minute when Liam Polworth gave away possession and Fraser Aird fed the ball through to the experienced striker. His first touch was weighty, though, and allowed Dean Brill to gallop off his line to obscure much of the target area and block the final toe-poke.
Rangers were still trying to force things. They swiped the odd cross into the area, and whenever there was a set piece captain Lee McCulloch advanced up field and became the beacon for every delivery but his physical presence and determination were not enough to test Brill let alone dig out a goal, with one total miscue midway through the half earning him jeers,
Just after half an hour Greg Tansey almost carved out a breakthrough for the visitors when his ball sent Marley Watkins darting in between Bilel Mohsni and Lee Wallace to get a shot away. But Steve Simonsen got in the way to keep the scoreline blank.
In the 42nd minute Brill was under pressure from another set-piece delivery dropped in on top of him. In a crowded area he fumbled but the referee eased the situation, deciding he has been unfairly hindered as he tried to retrieve the ball.
There was marginally more target practice after the interval, with both teams no doubt lambasted at half-time by managers infuriated by the paucity of attempts in the first half. In the 52nd minute Lewis Macleod had a shot on the turn on the angle of the 18-yard box, but even that has to count as slim pickings.
A Mohsni mistake presented Billy McKay with a sniff at goal, when the French-Tunisian switched off to allow Watkins to nick the ball and whip a ball across the face of Simonsen’s goal, but McKay had been too busy expressing his frustration at the initial breakdown in play and was too slow to react, failing to gain enough ground on the covering Darren McGregor to connect properly.
Aird should have done better at the other end. Having found himself in acres of space as Rangers countered, he screamed for the crossfield switch but as he homed in on goal, he was denied by Tremarco who got to him in the nick of time to block.
There was evidence that Rangers still believed they could win this one and manager Ally McCost shuffled the pack, sending on David Templeton and Jon Daly, and the home team began to run at their guests. In the 78th minute they got the goal that extra bit of drive probably merited. Nicky Law’s cross came off Tremarco and broke to Macleod just outside the area and he belted his shot back towards goal. Brill may have got to it, but he was left with no chance when Josh Meekings stuck out a foot to try to block and only succeeded in sending it past his keeper.
That goal ignited something in both sets of players with Templeton and Ian Black forcing saves from Brill before the midfielder had to intervene at the other end and clear a Ryan Christie effort of the line.
That was in stoppage time, as was Gary Warren’s effort which found the net. The only trouble was the flag was already up and, seconds later, so was the game.
Rangers: Simonsen, McGregor, Mohsni, McCulloch, Wallace, Aird (Templeton - 73’), MacLeod, Law, Black, Clark, Boyd (Daly - 72’)
Inverness: Brill, Tremarco, Meekings, Warren, Raven, Doran, Tansey, Polworth, Watkins, Williams (Christie - 73’), McKay