Overcoming Livingston to reach the last four of the Premier Sports Cup, however, is certainly a source of considerable relief for Steven Gerrard as he ended a run of three consecutive quarter-final eliminations in Scottish tournament football on his watch.
A vibrant second half display, inspired by substitute Ianis Hagi and in sharp contrast to the rather listless fare served up in the opening 45 minutes to an Ibrox crowd of 35,779, saw goals from Kemar Roofe and Alfredo Morelos steer Rangers safely into Thursday night’s semi-final draw.
It was testament to how efficiently Livingston subdued Rangers’ front three, shutting down the supply to them with their well-drilled pressing, that the hosts best openings in that first half generally came through the efforts of full-backs Nathan Patterson and Calvin Bassey.
With the more senior duo of James Tavernier and Borna Barisic starting the evening among the substitutes, their young deputies were both clearly out to impress.
Patterson was unfortunate not to make the breakthrough in the seventh minute when he surged down the right into the penalty area and played a sharp exchange of passes before seeing his shot well saved by Max Stryjek.
The Livingston goalkeeper had excelled in the weekend league victory over Celtic and it was clear he would be a crucial figure for the West Lothian side here as they sought a second Old Firm scalp. Sadly for him, his most telling contribution would ultimately be a decisive one in Rangers’ favour.
He should have been tested when Connor Goldson, not for the first or last time in the contest, opted for the direct route in an attempt to find a way through the visitors’ smothering tactics.
The big central defender’s lofted through pass found Scott Wright running in behind Livi central defenders Ayo Obileye and Jack Fitzwater but his touch was poor and the ball dribbled harmlessly through to Stryjek.
Goldson’s excellent distribution next saw him pick out Bassey with a precise diagonal which the left-back brought under control brilliantly. But after cutting inside to give himself a clear sight of goal, Bassey’s next touch wasn’t so clever as he blazed his shot wildly over.
Too much of Rangers’ play lacked urgency and precision with the midfield trio of Joe Aribo, John Lundstram and Glen Kamara all struggling to impose themselves in a creative sense.
There was a rare sight of goal for Morelos in the 34th minute which looked likely to give Rangers the lead. But although the Colombian striker managed to steer his shot beyond Stryjek, it lacked power and Livingston captain Nicky Devlin was able to slide in and make a fine block.
As they increasingly toiled to carve out chances through their own efforts, Rangers could have profited from an error from their former player Jason Holt. The midfielder, making his 50th appearance for Livi, gave the ball away cheaply to Kamara who strode forward and sent a low shot narrowly wide of Stryjek’s right hand post.
Despite the relatively comfortable manner in which his team were holding Rangers at bay, Livingston manager David Martindale still wasn’t completely satisfied.
Just a minute before the break he decided to make a substitution, much to the bemusement of young Liverpool loanee Adam Lewis who was less than impressed as he trudged off to be replaced by Jack McMillan.
Gerrard opted to wait until the start of the second half before making his first change but it was no surprise that Hagi was introduced at the expense of the out of touch Wright.
It took the gifted Romanian, who had been absent since testing positive for Covid-19 during the international break earlier this month, just two minutes to make the desired impact. Receiving a pass from Morelos, he turned sharply and made space for himself on the right to drive the ball low across the face of the six yard box where Roofe gratefully snapped up his fifth goal of the season.
Now playing with a far higher tempo, Rangers almost doubled their lead in rapid order. Hagi was the creator again, this time from the left, and Leon Balogun should have done better than send his header wide of Stryjek’s left hand post.
Livingston were rocking for the first time in defence and when they survived a penalty claim for handball against Stephane Omeonga, it was Stryjek who came to their rescue once more with a fine save to touch over a fierce rising shot from Morelos.
Roofe should have added to his tally when he was sent clear but shot straight at Stryjek as Rangers looked to exert a firmer grip on the tie.
They duly did so with their second goal in the 63rd minute as Stryjek undid his earlier heroics with a blunder he won’t want to watch again in a hurry. Under no great pressure on the edge of his six yard box, he attempted to pick out Fitzwater with a pass.
He misplaced it horribly, sending the ball straight to Morelos who turned away smartly from Fitzwater and slammed a shot beyond the stricken Stryjek.
The Polish ‘keeper added another fine save to his showreel when he kept out a Goldson header but the damage had been done.
On a night when Jon McLaughlin in the Rangers goal didn’t have a save to make all night, it was ultimately both comfortable and comprehensive for Gerrard’s side.
Rangers (4-3-3): McLaughlin, Patterson (Tavernier 62), Goldson, Balogun, Bassey; Aribo (Arfield 77), Lundstram, Kamara; Roofe (Sakala 77), Morelos (Bacuna 70), Wright (Hagi 46). Subs not used: McGregor, Davis, Barker, Barisic.
Livingston (4-2-3-1): Stryjek, Devlin, Obileye, Fitzwater, Penrice; Holt, Omeonga; Bailey, Lewis (McMillan 45), Montano (Forrest 59); Shinnie (Anderson 70). Subs not used: Barden, Longridge, Pittman, Panayiotou, Hamilton, Kelly.