How Rangers depth came to the fore as they swept aside Falkirk to reach Betfred Cup quarter-finals

On a bitingly cold evening in Falkirk, the warm glow around Rangers’ season was undiminished.

Jermain Defoe slots home in the sixth minute to open the scoring for Rangers in their Betfred Cup tie against Falkirk. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

It’s now 23 matches undefeated since the start of the campaign for Steven Gerrard’s side who cruised into the last eight of the Betfred Cup with an unfussy and professional 4-0 win against League 1 leaders Falkirk.

From the moment veteran striker Jermain Defoe put them ahead in the sixth minute, the outcome was never in doubt. Further strikes from Calvin Bassey and Borna Barisic put them out of sight before half-time with captain James Tavernier adding to his remarkable tally early in the second half.

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Once again, the depth of Rangers’ squad was underlined as Gerrard made seven changes to his starting line-up from Thursday night’s Europa League draw against Benfica but was still able to name seven full internationals in his side.

He would probably have made even more alterations if circumstances had allowed. But with Swedish defender Filip Helander returning a positive Covid-19 test, to join teenage right-back Nathan Patterson in having to self-isolate, it meant any opportunity to rest Connor Goldson and Tavernier - the only two players to start every game for Rangers this season - was effectively ruled out.

Those two, along with Barisic and Scott Arfield, were the only survivors from the Benfica match.

Jon McLaughlin replaced Allan McGregor in goal, while Bassey came in for Leon Balogun in central defence.

There was a first starting appearance for Bongani Zungu in midfield where Ianis Hagi returned as Steven Davis and Glen Kamara dropped out.

Defoe was flanked by Brandon Barker and Cedric Itten in a completely revamped front three as Alfredo Morelos, Ryan Kent and Kemar Roofe made way.

Rangers had not won on their previous three visits to the Falkirk Stadium, the most recent of them a 3-2 defeat in a Championship fixture under Mark Warburton in March 2016.

But this Ibrox side is a very different beast from those days when there was too often and softness and vulnerability about them.

They had a clear intent to take control of this tie as quickly as possible, Itten’s cross bouncing off the top of the crossbar inside the opening minute, and they duly did so courtesy of Defoe’s third goal of the season.

Rangers’ willingness to vary their preferred possession-based approach by going more direct paid dividends when Goldson’s long through ball was misjudged in the air by Falkirk defender Mark Durnan. It dropped into the path of Defoe who brought it under control instantly and steered a low left foot shot across goalkeeper Peter Morrison into the corner of the net.

Defoe came close to a second 10 minutes later when Durnan’s clearance from a Bassey cross fell to the striker on the edge of the box. It was an awkward ball to connect with but Defoe’s first time volley flew just wide of Morrison’s right hand post.

Rangers were forced into a change midway through the first half when Barker limped off. He was replaced by Kamara who went into midfield while Hagi moved into the forward line.

Falkirk had responded reasonably well to the early setback, competing well in midfield, but their task became even more daunting when Rangers made it 2-0 on the half hour.

Morrison made a fine save to keep out a Tavernier shot at the expense of a corner which was floated in from the left by Barisic. Itten’s header was parried by Morrison but only as far as Bassey who smashed home his first goal for Rangers from close range.

Itten should have made it 3-0 a minute later but the Swiss international forward blazed wildly over from around 14 yards after being set up perfectly by Hagi.

Falkirk enjoyed another decent spell and it needed a fine reaction save from McLaughlin to keep out Durnan’s close range heart from Blair Alston’s corner.

But any rekindled hopes the hosts had of staging a comeback were snuffed out by Rangers’ third goal four minutes before half-time. Hagi earned a free-kick just outside the penalty area, providing Barisic with the opportunity to showcase his set piece expertise as the Croatian left back curled the ball over the defensive wall and high beyond the left hand of Morrison into the corner of the net.

A slack back pass by Bassey immediately after the restart almost gifted Falkirk a goal but McLaughlin was able to deny Conor Sammon, albeit with a fortunate break of the ball as he challenged the striker.

Rangers quickly reasserted their authority with an excellent fourth goal in the 50th minute. It underscored the influence their full-backs have on so much of their best work as Barisic’s cross from the left was volleyed home in emphatic style by Tavernier for his 14th goal of the campaign.

Gerrard’s side were in cruise control now and he took the opportunity to hand a debut to 18-year-old midfielder Ciaran Dickson, while winger Glenn Middleton also entered the fray to make his first appearance since April 2019.

Another of Rangers’ highly-regarded academy products, 16-year-old defender Leon King, made his debut when he replaced Tavernier for the final 20 minutes while Greg Stewart came on for Zungu.

Falkirk: P.Morrison, Dixon, Hall, Durnan, Alston, Kelly, Gomis, Telfer (Leitch 74), C.Morrison (Connolly 62), Sammon (Dowds 62), Todd (Deveney 81). Subs not used: Cantley, Mercer, Francis, Laverty, Miller

Rangers: McLaughlin, Tavernier (King 71), Goldson, Bassey, Barisic (Dickson 55); Arfield (Middleton 55), Zungu (Stewart 71), Hagi; Itten, Defoe, Barker (Kamara 26). Subs not used: Firth, Balogun, Kent, Morelos.

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