Two goals from midfielder Jamie McGrath, a boyhood Liverpool fan who had posters of Steven Gerrard on his bedroom wall, helped inflict a first defeat of the 2020-21 season on the Rangers manager’s team to send them spinning out of the Betfred Cup at the quarter-final stage.
Steven Davis looked to have forced extra-time in a dramatic contest before Conor McCarthy’s stoppage time strike sealed the 3-2 win which takes Saints into the last four.
It is a bitter blow for Gerrard and his players who were odds-on favourites to lift the campaign’s first piece of domestic silverware. Their bid to end their club’s decade-long wait for a major trophy now rest on the Premiership and Scottish Cup.
While their healthy lead in the title race still provides Rangers with plenty of optimism on that front, rivals will take instruction and encouragement from the way they were ultimately hustled out of their stride and overcome by Jim Goodwin’s men who hit back from the early concession of Connor Goldson’s opener.
Making do without Morelos
Having accepted a two-match suspension for Alfredo Morelos after the Colombian striker was cited by the Scottish FA for his clash with Dundee United defender Mark Connolly at Tannadice on Saturday, there was always going to be at least one change to the Rangers starting line-up.
It may even have been likely that Cedric Itten would have replaced Morelos in any case for this tie and the Swiss international duly came in for just his sixth start for the Ibrox men.
Gerrard made three other changes from the Premiership victory over United. Calvin Bassey replaced Borna Barisic at left-back, while Joe Aribo and Bongani Zungu lined up in midfield as Davis and Glen Kamara both dropped to the subs’ bench.
There was a slight delay to kick-off after referee Andrew Dallas suffered an injury during his warm-up. He was replaced by the man originally down to be the fourth official, David Dickinson.
Rangers were a team in a hurry when Dickinson did get the action underway, quickly establishing what had become a familiarly dominant pattern of play in domestic fixtures this season.
Goldson on the goal trail again
The reward for their early urgency was Goldson’s breakthrough in the seventh minute, a seventh goal of the campaign for the ever-present defender.
Goldson’s aerial prowess at set pieces is well known but he produced another weapon from his arsenal this time. When St Mirren were hesitant in dealing with a Rangers attack down the visitors’ left, the ball broke to Goldson on the right around 30 yards out.
He drove forward into the penalty area, showing admirable close control to evade a couple of challenges before he drilled a low right foot shot across Saints ‘keeper Jak Alnwick into the far corner of the net.
As Rangers looked to firmly impose their authority on the tie, an enticing delivery from the right two minutes later from James Tavernier was just marginally too high for Ryan Kent to get enough purchase on a header which flew off target.
St Mirren, prompted by some eye-catching contributions in midfield from Jake Doyle-Hayes, gradually gained a foothold in the contest without being able to make any real inroads towards Allan McGregor’s goal.
Wasteful Rangers pay the penalty
Rangers should have capitalised on their superiority long before they conceded the penalty which provided Saints with parity before half-time.
Itten was unable to connect with a low ball flashed across the face of the six yard box by the adventurous Goldson before a similar delivery from Kent also found no takers.
Saints were riding their luck at times and Itten saw a header from a Tavernier corner cleared off the line by McGrath.
The hosts might have been content just to get to the interval only 1-0 down but they equalised courtesy of some rash defending by Bassey. The 20-year-old has impressed on his previous appearances since signing from Leicester City in the summer but he looked out of sorts on this occasion.
Caught on the wrong side of Dylan Connolly as the St Mirren wide man burst into the box, Bassey clumsily brought him down. McGrath stepped up to make no mistake from the spot to claim his fourth goal in as many outings.
Bassey’s torment continued at the start of the second half as his struggles to cope with the pace and direct running of Connolly continued.
In the 52nd minute, the Irish winger raced past Bassey again to float in a cross which struck the top of McGregor’s crossbar. A minute later, McGregor was retrieving the ball from the net as St Mirren took the lead. Bassey was unable to prevent Connolly getting to the line and his low cutback found Jon Obika who laid the ball into the path of McGrath who showed good composure to slot a precise shot beyond McGregor from close range.
Gerrard responded with a double substitution, Bassey unsurprisingly replaced by Barisic while Davis came on for Arfield.
Rangers thought they had equalised in the 66th minute when, after an Itten shot was parried by Alnwick, Roofe gathered the ball on the left and cut it back for Tavernier to slot home. But a linesman’s flag ruled that the ball had gone out of play before Roofe’s delivery.
It looked as if Rangers had salvaged the situation when Davis made it 2-2 in the 88th minute. Tavernier’s free-kick smashed back off Alnwick’s right hand post and Davis’s follow-up shot looped beyond Alnwick.
But in an incredible finale, St Mirren grabbed the winner in the first minute of stoppage time. McGregor made a brilliant save to keep out Richard Tait’s header but McCarthy was first to react and drive the loose ball home from close range.