RANGERS defeated a combined Falkirk and Hearts XI 4-0 at the Falkirk Stadium in the David Hagen benefit match yesterday afternoon.
It was announced earlier this year that Hagen, who was at Ibrox for five years as a youth and senior player, was suffering from motor neuron disease and the game was organised to raise funds for his continued care and support with Hagen and his family in attendance.
The former midfielder also spent five years at hosts Falkirk as well as a stint in the capital with Hearts and he would’ve enjoyed the football on show from both sides, particularly Rangers in the second half.
After a goalless first half which saw neither side establish any dominance on proceedings, Rangers improved significantly after the break to score the goals that won the game.
Josh McPake was Rangers’ super-sub as he came to replace Liam Burt in the 67th minute and opened the scoring just a minute later with a well-taken shot. Defender Lewis Mayo made it two shortly after as he converted a cross with a tap-in.
Andrew Dallas made it three for Rangers late on, finishing well beyond the goalkeeper before McPake bagged his brace with two minutes left on the clock.
Graeme Murty took his side to the Falkirk Stadium for the benefit match and fielded a strong side with Robby McCrorie in goal and Reserve team regulars Stephen Kelly, Dallas and Jack Thomson all playing, with Cameron Palmer once again captaining.
Rangers threatened to break the deadlock on 17 minutes through persistent pressing in the middle of the park. The ball was fed to Kelly, who patiently waited for Matthew Shiels to make his run to the left and played him through. Shiels’ cross-cum-shot went narrowly wide of Brett Young’s left-hand post.
And it was through Kelly again just a minute later that the Gers had the best chance of the game to that point. Driving through the centre, midfielder Kelly played a perfectly time slide-rule ball to Liam Burt, who advanced into the box from the right flank. Falkirk goalkeeper Young saved his effort, with a defender clearing for a corner.
With half an hour played in the game with no scoring, it was evident both sides were struggling to get a proper hold of the game in what was a competitive affair. Anything Rangers were doing impressively though tended to come via Kelly, as his shot on 31 minutes showed. He received the ball from Dapo Mebude, switching his feet quickly before testing Young in goal with a low drive that he was equal to, smothering after an initial parry.
On 37 minutes, Kelly was involved once more as a cross from Shiels very nearly ended up as the opener for Rangers. After his initial through ball to Burt was cleared, Kelly made an interception on the left side and took a couple of seconds before deciding his next move. He spotted the run of Shiels, chipping the ball forward for him and the left-back’s cross was collected by Young a yard from the goal-line – only after he had let it fall out of his arms.
Shortly after it was the Falkirk and Hearts XI that thought they were the ones to break the stalemate. Palmer was given a poor pass to deal with facing the goal and Euan Henderson took advantage to dispossess the Gers skipper. McCrorie stood tall though to deny the forward.
At the interval, Murty made one change as Nathan Patterson replaced Aidan Wilson. Patterson came in at right-back with Harris O’Connor slotting at left centre-back for the young Gers.
It took 12 minutes of the restart for an opportunity to arise and it fell to Burt, Kelly advancing through the middle in attack and dinking the ball for Burt to head at goal, but his effort was into the hands of the goalkeeper.
The Falkirk and Hearts youngsters had a foray forward following that and tested McCrorie with a long-range shot, with Kai Kennedy replacing Mebude immediately after for Rangers.
By the midway point of the second period Rangers were beginning to dominate possession and looked the likelier of the sides to get a goal, determined build-up play being let down in the final third by a lack of killer pass or pinpoint cross, but confidence was building.
Josh McPake was substituted in for Burt after 67 minutes as Murty looked to freshen up the attack. And it proved a fantastic decision as McPake opened the scoring for the young Gers no more than a minute after coming on.
He received the ball around 30 yards from goal and had options to the right and left but opted to go it alone, driving into the right side of the penalty area before slotting the ball home with a powerful drive into the bottom of the corner.
Rangers looked hungry and doubled their advantage just a few minutes later through centre-back Mayo. Kelly came short after a corner kick on the left-hand side, looking up and crossing well into the danger area. Young couldn’t reach it and Mayo was there to tap in from two yards.
Rangers made their final changes after 75 minutes with Nicky Hogarth replacing McCrorie in goal, Scott Gray coming on for Shiels and goalscorer Mayo making way for Murray Miller.
Kelly and Dallas were both denied by Bairns ‘keeper with three minutes of each other, Kelly drifting into the box on the left-hand side and forcing a corner before Dallas was one-on-one and witnessed the same end result.
It was that duo that combined again on 86 minutes and this time Dallas found joy by getting his name on the scoresheet. After a clever passage of play involving Kelly, the bustling midfielder played a neat ball through the Falkirk and Hearts defence to Dallas who had found space in the danger area. The forward made no mistake with the finish, using the outside of his boot to make it 3-0 to Rangers.
Murty’s boys weren’t finished there though as McPake got his second of the day on 88 minutes, the attacker collecting a pass to him on the right flank before cutting in on his left and finding the back of the net via a deflection off Young in the Falkirk/Hearts goal.
Rangers completely dominated the second half and even though the 4-0 scoreline looked incredibly unlikely at half-time, the opportunities created after the interval proved the Gers were worthy winners on the day.
Falkirk/Hearts: Brett Young, Kyle Mitchell, Josh Doig, Alex Petkov, Bartlomiej Gajda, Marky Munro, Aidan Laverty, Tom Owen Evans, Kevin O’Hara, Euan Henderson, Cieran Dunne. SUBS: Leo Watson, Brodie Strang, Jason Jarvis.
RANGERS: Robby McCrorie, Harris O’Connor, Matthew Shiels, Jack Thomson, Aidan Wilson, Lewis Mayo, Dapo Mebude, Cameron Palmer, Andrew Dallas, Stephen Kelly, Liam Burt. SUBS: Nicky Hogarth, Kai Kennedy, Nathan Patterson, Josh McPake, Murray Miller, Scott Gray.