Talented Alex Lowry seizes Rangers chance in style as rare starts handed out - but an injury to Ianis Hagi
Alex Lowry, it seems, is cognisant of the old adage that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
The teenage midfielder’s debut for Rangers came earlier than anticipated at Ibrox on Friday night as an injury sustained by Ianis Hagi saw the Scotland youth international introduced after just 15 minutes of the Scottish Cup fourth round tie against Stirling Albion.
Lowry didn’t intend waiting any longer to showcase exactly why his manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst had described him as a ‘big talent’ on the eve of the game.
The 18-year-old immediately injected life into what had been a ponderous start to the game by the Scottish champions and had been on the pitch for just 16 minutes when he opened the scoring with a fine goal.
Lowry produced a nerveless, assured and hugely impressive display. Even accounting for the fact it was against League 2 opponents, he made a compelling case for further first team involvement this season.
While Lowry seized his opportunity, the same couldn’t be said of several more senior fringe players handed game time by van Bronckhorst as he made eight changes to the team which drew 1-1 at Aberdeen on Tuesday.
There were rare starts for Jack Simpson, deployed at left-back, attacking midfielder Juninho Bacuna and winger Brandon Barker – the latter making his first appearance in a year. There was little evidence in their contributions to make anyone question why they have not featured more often.
Cedric Itten did at least mark his inclusion with a goal, although the Swiss international striker generally struggled to seriously impose himself against the visitors’ defence.
It was ultimately a straightforward and low-key progression to the last 16 of the tournament for Rangers, while Darren Young’s fourth tier outfit were able to leave Ibrox with their heads held high.
Their committed approach to the tie was mostly based on containment, although they did produce a couple of heart-in-the-mouth moments for the home fans in the 37,916 crowd while the game was still goalless.
Ray Grant, son of former Celtic favourite Peter, came closest to giving Albion a shock lead with a dipping shot narrowly over the crossbar of the scrambling Jon McLaughlin.
As Rangers finally asserted themselves, Lowry made the breakthrough with a precise low finish after carving open the Albion defence via an exchange of passes with Bacuna.
The lead was doubled from the penalty spot in the 37th minute after Jordan McGregor handled the ball. James Tavernier stepped up to score his 70th goal in a Rangers jersey.
The Ibrox captain had the chance to grab number 71 before half-time when Mason Hancock flattened Barker to concede another penalty but this time Tavernier’s effort was saved by Albion ‘keeper Blair Currie.
Lowry continued to shine, playing a part in the third goal which saw John Lundstram feed Itten for a close range finish in the 59th minute.
Leon King, another 18-year-old academy product, replaced Leon Balogun for the last half hour and Rangers added some gloss to their night’s work in the 86th minute when Fashion Sakala was rewarded for his persistence when he cut in from the left to beat Currie with a smart shot.
Rangers (4-3-3): McLaughlin, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun (King 60), Simpson; Hagi (Lowry 15), Lundstram, Bacuna; Barker (Roofe 67), Itten, Sakala. Subs not used: McCrorie, Bassey, Sands, Wright, McCann.
Stirling Albion (4-5-1): Currie, McGeachie, McGregor, Cummins, Hancock (Creaney 86); Moore (Banner 70), Roberts, Grant, Leitch, Flanagan; Francis (Mackin 75). Subs not used: Law, Heaver, Carrick, McNiff.
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