Fringe benefits for Rangers as 4-0 win over Cove sets up Celtic Scottish Cup clash

Steven Gerrard has prioritised a Scottish Cup win from his squad – to add to the Premiership title they’ve already banked.

Kemar Roofe (R) makes it 2-0 during a Scottish Cup Third Round tie between Rangers and Cove Rangers at Ibrox Stadium, on April 04, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

But the Rangers manager also has an unbeaten league campaign record which is just five games away and is conscious of spreading the minutes amongst his squad after a lengthy and demanding season. However, he has insisted he won’t do either to the detriment of Hampden glory – now his number one priority.

That the Scottish Cup run now includes a fifth Old Firm meeting with Celtic, and a chance to relocate a second piece of silverware across the city, will only concentrate minds further after progress to the last 16 was secured with some comfort at Ibrox in Sunday night’s penultimate third round tie.

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The trophy and shared team time don’t have to be mutually exclusive though.

That much was proven by several of Gerrard’s fringe players drafted in and their professional handling of Cove Rangers to set up the fourth Old Firm game of the campaign in a fortnight while maintaining the club’s reliable course and unbeaten home domestic form.

In his Scottish Cup selection the Rangers manager made seven changes to his last team – one which drew 1-1 at Celtic Park last month - and it’s fair to suggest that the Ibrox line-up against Celtic will be slightly different when that tie is played in two weeks’ time, no less because two of the first-team may be unavailable once again.

The club’s appeal against the six-game bans meted out by the Scottish FA disciplinary panel at the start of last week on five players for covid protocol breaches allowed two of those – Calvin Bassey and Nathan Patterson – to add to their appearance count with availability against Cove.

But the pair made their temporary reprieve count with capable performances – particularly Patterson.

Rangers' Jermain Defoe (centre) celebrates making it 1-0 with Scott Arfield and Steven Davis during a Scottish Cup Third Round tie between Rangers and Cove Rangers at Ibrox Stadium, on April 04, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

The young defender has impressed since deputising for the injured James Tavernier and looked accomplished on the right-wing once again.

Alert and advanced, Patterson sniffed out possession as Cove diced with danger along their own penalty area shortly before half-time, then raced in, seized the ball and planted a punishment of his own into the corner of the net for Rangers’ fourth and what proved to be final goal of the evening.

To that point the game had smouldered without ever catching light, despite the Ibrox DJ being prompted to play ‘The Roof Is On Fire’ twice to mark two Kemar Roofe goals in quick succession around the half-hour mark.

The forward also hit the post early on and will be one of those with designs on a start against Celtic when the fourth round clash comes along.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - APRIL 04: Rangers' Nathan Patterson (L) celebrates making it 4-0 with Scott Arfield during a Scottish Cup Third Round tie between Rangers and Cove Rangers at Ibrox Stadium, on April 04, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

So too should Scot Wright. On from the start for the first time, he went close in the early exchanges and throughout the home side channelled much of their early play towards the former Aberdeen winger, who has slotted into the Rangers style and set-up with ease.

Old reliable

Wright’s inclusion for a first start of the season at Ibrox contrasted with Gerrard’s trusted lieutenant Connor Goldson, now one start off hitting a half-century for the title-winning campaign after captaining the side and showing no signs of slowing down.

Neither too does Jermain Defoe – another fringe player pitched in against Cove and another who has proven he can be relied upon when his body allows him.

Defoe has rarely been seen from the start this season, but has found the net when he has with a classy finish at Ibrox against Livingston in October and he unleashed a rocket from 25-yards after cleverly using all of his 23-years of experience to spin Fraser Fyvie in midfield to open the scoring beyond Stuart McKenzie on 23 minutes.

With that sort of guile and nous in reserve, Gerrard’s ambition of doing the double may still be achievable with more than a little input from the lesser-seen squad members before the season is out.

However, when the bench comprises of Ryan Kent, Joe Aribo, Allan McGregor and Alfredo Morelos, not to mention Ianis Hagi who was given 45 minutes against Cove, the options are plentiful for Gerrard and selection against Celtic won’t be any easier after an accomplished evening against the League One promotion hopefuls.

Biggest in history

Cove had billed the game as the biggest in the club’s history, and while holding out admirably and fighting their corner, they rarely approached Jon McLaughlin’s net in the first half, and by which point they did, they were already well behind.

This game though, was not the priority for Paul Hartley’s team, whose 48 hour countdown to a key league fixture against Clyde on Tuesday began during the half-time interval at Ibrox. That was considered in his team selection, and made an already difficult task insurmountable and a second half injuries for Leighton McIntosh and Jamie Masson didn’t help their cause.

Neither too did a professional performance from a much-changed Rangers side which lived up to its oft-coined ‘relentless’ billing throughout the season and who looked intent on fulfilling that tag in their pursuit of their second silverware of the season.

To Cove's credit, the players stood their ground against an increasing pressure for a fifth from the home side throughout the second half, but the Aberdeenshire outfit will have to rouse themselves for their own priority of a promotion push on Tuesday.

Rangers of the Glasgow variety meanwhile, look forward to Hibs then Celtic in a fortnight's time, and remain in impressive form, whoever Steven Gerrard selects.

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