LIFE under Mark Warburton continues to provide Rangers supporters with cause for optimism after their team cruised into the second round of the League Cup with an ultimately convincing win over Peterhead.
David Templeton’s goal was all the Ibrox men had to show for a patchy first-half display before late strikes by Kenny Miller and James Tavernier adorned a far more fluid and impressive performance after the break.
On the back of their 6-2 Petrofac Training Cup win at Hibs eight days earlier, it was another source of encouragement for Warburton as he enjoyed his first competitive home fixture as Rangers manager.
Employing a progressive style of play which the Rangers fans are eager to embrace, his team will approach the start of their Championship campaign against St Mirren on Friday night in upbeat mood.
But while they certainly merited their half-time advantage yesterday, provided by Templeton’s strike four minutes before the interval, it was an opening period which underlined they are very much a work in progress under Warburton.
Just as he was dissatisfied with his team’s first-half display against Hibs the previous week, Warburton was given plenty to ponder by the manner in which Rangers set about imposing their authority on their League 1 opponents.
There was a lack of pace and precision in much of their passing, with Peterhead finding it fairly easy to frustrate their early attacking work. Peterhead goalkeeper Graeme Smith, who was on the bench for Rangers in the 2008 Uefa Cup final in Manchester, was equal to the task whenever the home side did manage to create openings in those initial stages.
As in the Petrofac Training Cup win over Hibs, both the Rangers full-backs were given licence to roam forward in a fluid 4-1-4-1 formation. It was left-back Lee Wallace who posted the home side’s first attempt at goal, his low shot comfortably held by Smith.
Right-back Tavernier then attempted to repeat his free-kick heroics from Easter Road but his curling right-foot effort in the 22nd minute was calmly gathered by Smith.
Peterhead occasionally threatened on the break, such as when Jordon Brown sent a dipping 22-yard effort just over the top, but they were generally content to defend in numbers.
Nicky Law should have put Rangers ahead in the 25th minute but he glanced his close-range header from a Tavernier cross wide of Smith’s right- hand post.
Three minutes later, Rangers finally produced the kind of incisive attacking move Warburton hopes to make a feature of their play. Wallace began the move, the ball switching rapidly to Martyn Waghorn and Barrie McKay before Wallace collected it again inside the penalty area and forced a fine save from Smith.
It remained one-way traffic as Smith then denied Dean Shiels, who should have done better from close range after Waghorn had cleverly dummied a Templeton cross into his path, and also kept out a long-range effort by Andy Halliday.
Just as it seemed Peterhead would take the goalless stalemate into half-time, they were undone by a piece of quick thinking by McKay in the 41st minute. The winger drove in from the left as the visitors’ defence temporarily switched off and his low cross found its way to Templeton, whose scuffed left-foot shot from six yards was good enough to finally beat Smith.
The first half ended on an acrimonious and faintly bizarre note when Halliday and Peterhead striker Rory McAllister clashed off the ball. McAllister, backed up by his irate manager Jim McInally on the touchline, claimed Halliday had struck him on the face.
No action was taken by the match officials and the response of one Rangers fan to McAllister’s remonstrations was to lob a loaf of Warburton’s bread in his direction, prompting the Peterhead man to break into a grin.
There was a greater sense of urgency about Rangers’ approach immediately after the interval and they almost doubled their lead in the 48th minute when a shot by Waghorn beat Smith with the aid of a wicked deflection but was scrambled off the line by Ryan Strachan. Waghorn caught the eye regularly with his intelligent movement and link-up play but his radar was slightly askew in front of goal. The burly striker should have done better than scoop a shot over from 12 yards in the 53rd minute.
A cleverly disguised pass by Waghorn then set up an inviting chance for McKay but he wastefully dragged his shot wide of Smith’s left-hand post.
Rangers’ failure to secure the comfort of a second goal left the tie in the balance and Warburton decided a double substitution was in order just before the hour mark, with Miller and Jason Holt replacing Templeton and Law.
The switch paid dividends when Miller doubled their lead with 14 minutes remaining.
It was a classic piece of poaching by the veteran striker, similar to his goals at Easter Road the previous week, as he latched on to Tavernier’s low cross from the right and slammed a close-range shot beyond Smith.
Rangers ratcheted up the pace in the closing stages as Peterhead tired. Waghorn, whose overall display deserved a goal, was unfortunate to see a curling shot rebound off Smith’s right-hand post.
A third goal did arrive in the 82nd minute, substitute Nicky Clark driving through the middle and picking out Tavernier’s run into the penalty area.
The full-back drove a firm right- foot shot beyond Smith to provide the scoreline with a more accurate interpretation of Rangers’ dominance.
Rangers: Foderingham, Tavernier, Kiernan, Wilson, Wallace; Halliday; McKay (Clark 71), Law (Holt 58), Shiels, Templeton (Miller 58); Waghorn. Subs not used: Kelly, Aird, Zaliukas, Walsh.
Peterhead: Smith, Blockley, Ross, Strachan, Noble; Stevenson (McIntosh 54), Dzierzawski, Redman (Rogers 76), Brown (Ferris 67); Sutherland; McAllister. Subs not used: Jarvie, Adams, Lawrence, Baptie.