Kilmarnock took a while to move through the gears but the improvements introduced by manager Steve Clarke since he replaced Lee McCulloch in October were evident long before the end as they comfortably claimed their place in tomorrow’s draw for the quarter-finals of the William Hill Scottish Cup.
It was a thoroughly professional display by the Ayrshire club, who are aiming to win the competition for the first time since 1997.
“We told the players at half-time that, if we did get a second goal, then we had to keep pushing for a third and fourth because that’s the way you respect your opponents; you keep going and you don’t switch off,” said Clarke. “You never know what the draw will bring so we’ll wait and see what happens, although, obviously, we’d like a home draw.”
The hosts may have been one of the form sides in the country but they made hard work of breaking down their obdurate Highland League opponents. There were few clear-cut openings manufactured as Rangers flooded the midfield and looked to stifle Killie’s attacking threat.
Winger Jordan Jones had been singled out for special attention but, after a third foul on the Northern Ireland star, full-back John Pickles picked up a caution which would reduce his options – and his effectiveness - for the remainder of the afternoon.
Greg Kiltie, starting for the first time this season, released Kris Boyd but, although the striker spotted that goalkeeper Joe Malin was off his line, his chipped shot was wayward. However, their persistence finally paid off just as Rangers were thinking they would reach the sanctuary of the dressing room on level terms.
Jones supplied Kiltie, who drove at the visitors before driving the ball across the face of the goal, allowing Aston Villa loanee Aaron Tshibola to force the ball home from point-blank range. That goal sucked some of the belief from Brora and it evaporated into the cold evening air when Boyd racked up his 14th goal of the season, placing the ball firmly behind Malin after Gary Dicker had threaded the ball through for him.
That served to open the floodgates. As Brora wilted, substitute Eamonn Brophy smashed the ball home from 22 yards while full-back Stephen O’Donnell produced a forward’s finish to beat Malin with a full-blooded strike from the far corner of the penalty area.