Rangers were as effective as circumstances allowed, and required, in ensuring the quest to bring to an end the near seven-year absence of a major trophy at Ibrox was not seriously troubled by Highland League Fraserburgh last night.
Rangers claimed a fifth-round trip to Ayr United courtesy of a Josh Windass hat-trick on an evening when the home side toiled manfully on a pitch so squeezed it wouldn’t meet senior football requirements. It ensured Graeme Murty’s men never got the run of them but the Rangers manager clearly wasn’t interested in hitting his modest cup opponents with all his artillery.
The fact that Windass was one of only five starters retained from the team that had won at Dingwall at the weekend told of his confidence that Rangers were shockproof last night - whatever members of his ever-changing squad he elected to field.
Murty’s ability to derive unlikely turns from certain players stretched to getting Niko Kranjcar to put his back into the task of coping with part-timers giving their everything on a surface that wouldn’t have looked out of place in amateur football. It was his deft intentions that provided the platform for Windass to bag his triple.
In only 13 minutes he neatly scooped a ball over the home defence to allow Jason Holt to get goalside of Ryan Dowie and induce a push from the defender on the Rangers attacker. There seemed little question about the penalty awarded by referee Greg Aitken and there was little fuss in the manner that Windass drilled it in.
His second shortly after the interval - which came after some attritional first period football, save for Kranjcar hitting the bar - showed the 24-year-old Englishman’s relish for a thumping hit. Kranjcar was again involved before a swipe by Jason Cummings resulted in the ball dropping to Windass to batter in from 14 yards. His first hat-trick for the Ibrox club wasn’t long delayed, with the forward cutting inside the box before drilling past keeper Peter Tait with aplomb.
The night furthered soured for Fraserburgh when Graham Johnston was given a straight red-card for cementing Joe Dodoo with studs up only two minutes after he had appeared as a 72nd minute substitute.
The backdrop to the tie for Rangers centred around a man who remained on the bench, Alfredo Morelos, and mysterious Chinese interested in the striker. The Colombian was reported to be subject of £7m offer from Beijing Renhe which was said have been rejected. This came a day after the country’s two Superleague clubs in Guangzhou were variously quoted as being the club chasing the player with £5.8m for the Premiership’s top scorer. It seemed inconceivable that Rangers would turn down such sums for any player, but with Augusto Fernandez signing for Renhe yesterday, none of the Chinese clubs mentioned appear to have one of their four slots for foreign players vacant.
Murty admitted after the cup win that he didn’t know how true any of the head turning figures might be with the Ibrox manager adamant that Morelos would not be cashed in on at the expense of weakening his team’s challenges this season.
They won’t have many like last night. It was to be transported back to a different time to be in Bellslea Park last night. All that seemed missing around the three-sides covering perimeter fencing - one stretch of which was simply a grass mound - was adverts for Captstan Filters. In recent decades it is a struggle to think of a Scottish Cup tie with quite so much endearing quaintness attached to it - if that doesn’t sound too patronising.
Rarely has a town embraced a knock-out contest with one of Glasgow biggest draws as Fraserburgh patently did. The sense of occasion that the Highland League club sought to imbue the fourth-round tie with was evident with a walk around the fishing port at the tip of Aberdeen coastline. It is a cliche to talk about wee places housing wee teams having shop windows dressed for such a contest. It really was the reality for this game, though. There was practically no premises in the city centre that didn’t partake in a tradition that has been eroded by over-familiarity and the predisposition of clubs outside of the senior set-up to move such ties to larger stadiums. Fraserburgh were happy to have their moment in front of the mere 1,800 Bellslea could hold, and it seemed that number would cover the helium balloon balloons, good luck messages, and various other adornments in the black of white of The Broch that appeared on shop fronts. Those memories will live on for the locals, even if nothing on the pitch could come remotely close to such delights.