THE RANGERS fans had to wait over a month to finally see the talents of Shota Arveladze but it was worth it as the Georgian star brought the house down with a superb debut.
A niggling muscle injury delayed his introduction but two goals – the first of which was quite superb – and an overall display of great promise was the main talking point as Rangers eased into the fourth round of the CIS Cup.
The Shota show took only five minutes to wow the Ibrox crowd and if the Georgian striker can continue in this vein then Rangers might just have found the spark to reignite their season.
Leaving aside the level of the opposition, the quality of Arveladze’s opening goal was absolutely sensational and fit to grace a cup final never mind a third round tie. The quality mirrored Arveladze’s overall performance which left the Light Blue Legions purring with delight.
He clicked with Claudio Caniggia as if they had been playing together for years and the benefits for Rangers did not end there. Michael Ball also made an excellent debut, playing on the the left side of a three-man defence, which also augurs well for the future.
Even although this victory was over a First Division side, it has greatly heartened the Rangers supporters after the bitter disappointment of the Celtic game nine days previously and given them renewed hope that this season may still have plenty to offer.
It was Caniggia who created Arveladze’s first strike and poor Allan Ferguson in the Airdrie goal did not have a hope. The Argentinian drove a low pass towards his strike partner on the left side of the box and Arveladze swerved a shot with the outside of his left foot into the right corner.
Not a bad start to his Rangers career and there was more to come. He stabbed in a second goal with his right foot in 36 minutes after Ricksen’s intitial shot was blocked and the crowd just loved it.
The enigma was that it took Rangers so long to add to their lead. They completely dominated the match, playing some quite exquisite football at times – even although regular fullbacks Ricksen and Numan played in central midfield such was dearth of regular midfielders due to injury and suspension.
The pace and trickery of Caniggia ripped Airdrie apart at times. The Diamonds were defenceless as the South American star cut through them in nine minutes but his angled drive was well saved by Ferguson.
A minute later Arveladze got on the end of a superb diagonal ball from Ronald de Boer and forced Ferguson into another smart save when he hit a left foot volley which had plenty of pace.
Airdrie were simpy overwhelmed at this stage and Ferguson made another great block in 15 minutes when he denied Ricksen after de Boer had set him up with a threaded pass.
Even Ball got in on the attacking act when he burst forward in 22 minutes to take Numan’s pass in his stride and make a sweet strike from 30 yards but Ferguson was behind it to make a good save.
The move of the match, however, came two minutes later. Klos cleverly through the ball wide right for Russell Latapy, who spotted Caniggia darting in the right channel and played him in immaculately.
With pace and precision, Caniggia burst forward and swept over a great ball for Arveladze whose volley flew only inches over the bar. He even tried an overhead kick in 28 minutes to show he was not lacking in confidence.
And having scored his second goal in 36 minutes he struck the inside of the left hand post to deny him a hat-trick which would have been the most sensational start to his Rangers career.
Full credit to Airdrie. Having been perhaps over-awed in the first half they competed much better in the second half. This attitude, coupled with a shifting down in the gears by Rangers, kept the match tighter than it might have been.
Indeed the Diamonds hit the woodwork twice, albeit the top of the bar in 46 minutes when Kevin James got above everyone to get in a header in 46 minutes and then the junction of post and bar 10 minutes when Mark Roberts came close.
Owen Coyle also forced Stefan Klos to make a great save in 60 minutes, but Rangers were comfortable enough. Indeed, had it not been for Ferguson they would have been more convincing winners.
The former Hamilton and St Johnstone goalkeeper made brave saves at the feet of Caniggia and Arveladze and then later on from Mols, who replaced the Georgian for the final seven minutes.
It was a good moment for Arveladze as he took the acclaim of the fans for a super debut but it was also a great moment for young Jimmy Gibson who will be telling all of his friends how he came on for de Boer in 62 minutes for his first top team appearance at Ibrox.
Gibson, who came on as a sub at Kilmarnock two seasons ago, looked a little nervous but settled into the game and will be delighted with the experience of playing in front of 34,000 fans.
It looked as though two goals would be the final margin between the sides, but Rangers finally managed to produce a third in the last minute of the game and it was Ball who claimed the assist.
Tireless Caniggia started the move with a clever ball wide for the former Everton star, who unselfishly cut it back for on-rushing skipper Arthur Numan who swept a left foot drive into the net.
A good job done by Rangers, even if the second half was a bit scrappy, and everyone left with a bit of Georgia on their mind.
RANGERS: Klos; Moore, Amouros, Ball; Latapy, Ricksen, Numan, McCann (Vidmar 83); de Boer (Gibson 62); Arveladze (Mols 83), Caniggia. Subs not used – Christiansen, Flo.
AIRDRIE: Ferguson; Armsrong, McManus, Stewart (Dunn 75), James, Smith (Taylor 40); McFarlane, Gardner (S. McDonald 66), McPherson; Coyle, Roberts. Subs not used – C. McDonald, Bennett.
Bookings: McManus (63) Armstrong (67)
Ref: John Underhill.
Man of the match: Shota Arveladze.
Moment of the match: The sweeping move in 24 minutes was Rangers at their best.