Hamilton 1 - 4 Rangers: Late onslaught sees Gerrard's men into quarter-finals
The score stood at 1-1. But a minute later the same player, one of Rangers' poorer performers up to that point, stroked the ball into the far corner past Luke Southwood to put his side back in front with 22 minutes left.
Two further goals, from the previously subdued Alfredo Morelos, his first of the year, and another from Scott Arfield, Rangers’ 100th of the season, secured the Ibrox side's place in the last eight.
Is there any justice? Hamilton will claim there isn’t. For the second weekend in a row they had run one of the Old Firm close, even if you wouldn’t have known it from the scoreline. Late goals helped put a gloss on things for Rangers, just as three goals in the final 12 minutes had done so for Celtic in their own 4-1 win last Sunday.
On that occasion, Hamilton played the majority of the match with ten men. They were not disadvantaged to that extent here. However, they were forced to use all their substitutes by the start of the second half. It meant their two 17-year-olds, Jamie Hamilton and Andy Winter, making his full debut, had to play all 90 minutes, as did relative old hand Lewis Smith at 19-years-old.
The prodigiously talented Smith scored his second goal against Rangers this season six minutes before half-time. It was no less than the hosts deserved at that point. Smith himself had spurned an earlier chance to score, as had Rangers’ own wunderkind, Ianis Hagi, when heading past after only five minutes.
Hamilton will rue their inability to manage the game in the final stages. Perhaps it has something to do with Brian Rice’s suspension. The manager served the third game of a five-match ban for betting offences. He sat in the main stand and was in radio contact with the bench more than he would have liked in the first half when Hamilton were forced to make two substitutions. Steve Davies limped off with a hamstring injury and then Andy Dales did likewise a minute or so later.
The latter was hurt in the incident when Hamilton had what they will consider was the first of two strong penalty appeals. Ryan Kent’s challenge into the back of Dales after 33 minutes saw him slump to the floor and sparked a huge roar from the home fans, who expected referee Alan Muir to point to the spot.
This expectation was strengthened by knowledge Muir had been quick to do this a few minutes earlier, when Hamilton, who was sent off against Celtic six days earlier, upended Morelos.
To be fair, it did seem a straightforward decision, even if Arfield’s conversion of the award was not. Continuing the saga of Rangers penalty woes – they have now missed five of their last nine – the midfielder struck his effort too close to Southwood, who blocked well to his right. But Arfield nonchalantly tucked away the rebound, as if it had been the plan all along.
Often in these situations, if given the opportunity to ‘even up’ a penalty award, the referee will choose to take it. But Muir was not minded to when Dales fell under Kent’s challenge. He was given another, perhaps more obvious, chance to quell the home fans’ fury when Connor Goldson handled Alex Gogic’s cross from the right before then landing on the ball shortly before half-time. The referee again let play continue.
Hamilton had equalised by his stage and were taking the game to Rangers. Ogkmpoe did well to hold up a long ball out of defence while fending off Borna Barisic and George Edmundson and teeing up Smith, who took a touch before steering a fine finish in off the far post past Allan McGregor.
Incredibly, Mickel Miller, who had replaced Dales before half-time, stayed inside after the interval having sustained an injury just before the break.
Blair Alston replaced him for what was a half of few chances until Aribo strode onto Kent’s cross and flashed a shot into the corner out of nowhere. Substitute Greg Stewart’s deflected cross was then nodded in by Morelos before Arfield cracked home the fourth off the underside of the bar from 22 yards.