Failure to settle this Scottish Cup quarter-final at the first time of asking will see the tie decided in a replay at Ibrox on 12 March. The sides will now meet seven times in total in a campaign where this competition represents their best remaining opportunity for silverware.
Rangers will be the happier side with the outcome at Pittodrie, having been let off the hook by Aberdeen in a first half in which Steven Gerrard’s men were passive and punchless. Sam Cosgrove’s 18th goal of the season, from an early penalty, was the only reward Aberdeen could claim from their superiority at that stage.
Joe Worrall equalised with his first goal for Rangers just after half-time as the visitors raised their game considerably. They are now favourites to progress to the semi-finals but will be wary of Aberdeen’s impressive away form which has already seen them beat Gerrard’s side twice in Glasgow this season.
There could be no dispute about the award of the penalty kick which Cosgrove converted and there was similarly no doubt Aberdeen fully merited the interval advantage it gave them. They were by far the more purposeful side from the start, the energy and aggression of their pressing unsettling a curiously timid Rangers outfit.
Referee Kevin Clancy was perfectly positioned to assess Connor Goldson’s challenge on Gary Mackay-Steven which left the Aberdeen winger in a heap after he had driven into the heart of the Rangers penalty area.
It came at a cost to Mackay-Steven who required lengthy treatment before the spot-kick could be taken. Cosgrove remained composed despite the delay and drove the ball firmly to Allan McGregor’s left, the Rangers goalkeeper unable to keep it out despite getting a touch.
Joe Lewis had little to do in the first half but the Aberdeen ‘keeper did make a fine save to deny Alfredo Morelos an equaliser just two minutes later, getting down to his left to divert the striker’s low shot wide.
That was an all to rare moment of attacking threat from a Rangers perspective in a first half dominated by the Dons with their captain Graeme Shinnie winning the midfield battle with real authority. By contrast, Ryan Jack was enduring one of his least effective displays against his former club, repeatedly and carelessly losing possession.
Morelos, almost inevitably, collected the first caution of the afternoon when Clancy penalised him for simulation as he went down theatrically in the box under a challenge from Andrew Considine.
Aberdeen, with Niall McGinn replacing Mackay-Steven who was unable to shake off his earlier injury, continued to dominate and came close to doubling their lead in the 32nd minute. James Tavernier conceded a free-kick with a foul on Shinnie and when Greg Stewart whipped the ball in from the left, Scott McKenna rose to power in a header which McGregor touched over.
Sensing the opportunity to take an iron grip of the tie, Aberdeen raised the tempo further and forced Rangers into some desperate defending at times. Cosgrove and Shinnie both saw shots blocked in one penalty area melee, before McGinn wastefully blazed an effort over.
Rangers were relying on counter-attacks to try and get back on terms and Ryan Kent broke free in the 36th minute to smash a fierce left foot shot narrowly off target. The visitors threatened again in first half stoppage time when it needed a brilliantly timed interception from Dominic Ball to deny Morelos a clear sight of goal after fine build-up play from Scott Arfield and Tavernier.
Rangers’ first half display had certainly left them with endless scope for improvement after the break and they were rewarded for a greater sense of urgency when they equalised just three minutes after the resumption.
The goal came from a cheaply conceded and poorly defended corner from Aberdeen’s perspective. Stewart, under pressure from Borna Barisic, miscontrolled the ball as he knocked it behind to present Rangers with the set piece which was swept over from the left by Kent. The ball dropped into the path of Worrall, who had slipped free of his marker Cosgrove, and the big defender had all the time and space he needed to slide a low shot beyond Lewis from close range.
Referee Clancy evened up the caution count, this time ruling Connor McLennan guilty of simulation when he tumbled just inside the box under a challenge from Worrall.
Bolstered by their goal, Rangers began to pass the ball with greater accuracy and purpose as they forced Aberdeen onto the back foot for lengthier spells. Max Lowe did well to make a covering interception to halt Kent as the winger weaved his way into the penalty area, then Arfield passed up a decent chance to put the visitors in front when he dropped a lob over the top from the edge of the penalty area.
Aberdeen’s response was bright and positive as they tried to reclaim the initiative in an increasingly stretched contest. A McGinn corner caused panic in the Rangers penalty area, Considine getting a glancing header to the ball before Cosgrove saw his effort blocked.
Cosgrove was booked for a foul on Barisic and tempers flared when Shinnie joined him in the referee’s book for a poor challenge on Arfield which might easily have been deemed worthy of a red card. Lowe and Kent had to be separated as several Rangers players reacted angrily to the incident.
Aberdeen came closest to grabbing a winner in the closing stages, McGregor making a terrific save to keep out a Considine effort before McKenna’s follow up effort was blocked. The home side appeared the more deflated at the final whistle while Rangers could be satisfied that their insipid first half performance had not proved more damaging.