The signing of Jermain Defoe in the January transfer window was supposed to solve the problem of what to do when Alfredo Morelos isn’t available for selection.
If tonight’s match is anything to go by, Rangers boss Steven Gerrard is still looking for the answer to this particular conundrum as a far-from-convincing performance failed to acquire safe passage into the last eight of the Scottish Cup.
Kilmarnock rode their luck a little as James Tavernier missed an early penalty and a couple of late chances were squandered by the visitors, but overall the pre-match favourites didn’t do enough to win the contest and Steve Clarke’s men will feel they did more than enough to earn their replay at Ibrox a week on Wednesday.
The silver lining for the Light Blues is that their talisman Morelos will be back for that clash as the remainder of his three-game ban for violent conduct must take place in the Premiership. In the meantime they have a clash against St Johnstone in which to figure out how to improve on a record of four games, one win and two goals scored against Scottish top-flight opposition this season without the Colombian.
Rangers had barely been in the game when they were awarded a golden opportunity to open the scoring. In the first 14 minutes they had been too quick to go long to the diminutive Defoe and struggled to retain possession. Kilmarnock, meanwhile, threatened by building down the flanks, with Chris Burke and Jordan Jones looking in the mood. The former tested McGregor with a near-post free-kick, while forward Conor McAleny saw a shot from 25 yards swerve just over the bar.
That promising start looked as if it would count for nothing when Ryan Kent robbed a lackadaisical Stephen O’Donnell by the touchline and cut back to Scott Arfield. The midfielder’s low shot was on target before it was blocked by the arm of Kirk Broadfoot. Referee Alan Muir booked the former Ibrox defender for the infringement and awarded a penalty. Perhaps affected by the miss he had against St Mirren last Saturday, James Tavernier elected to blast his spot-kick straight down the middle and saw it fly back over his head after striking the shins of Daniel Bachmann.
Killie almost made their opponents pay for that miss when a Burke corner from the left started an almighty goalmouth scramble. Broadfoot, Gary Dicker and Youssouf Mulumbu all had a go, with the latter having one of his two efforts cleared off the line by Andy Halliday.
That came amid a short period where Rangers looked capable of dominating, but otherwise Kilmarnock were the more impressive side and certainly would have been the happier of the two teams at the break.
A nasty clash of heads between Alan Power and Ross McCrorie on 58 minutes saw the Kilmarnock midfielder forced from the action, to be replaced by Kris Boyd. It was an attacking addition as Killie went 4-4-2, though it had the opposite effect. Without the extra man in midfield, the hosts struggled to stay competitive in the centre and Rangers began to dominate possession.
Chances, however, were few and far between. Joe Worrall should have hit the target after meeting a free header from a Halliday corner, while Defoe could only shoot wide of the far post after McCrorie had robbed Mulumbu and released the veteran striker inside the penalty box.