GOALS from Kenny Miller and Martyn Waghorn booked Rangers’ place in the quarter-finals of the William Hill Scottish Cup and gave caretaker boss Graeme Murty his first win in charge of the club.
After Mark Warburton’s departure as the Light Blues boss on Friday, Murty got the reaction he would have wanted from the squad, who battled from being a goal down to progress to the next round of the competition.
It was Michael Tidser who opened the scoring for the visitors with a fine finish from 20 yards on seven minutes but Miller was to level quickly with a clinical finish.
Rangers’ second goal, and what proved to be the winner, didn’t arrive until the hour mark and it was Waghorn who got it when he prodded the ball over the line following excellent build-up play.
Like several games this season, Rangers did it the hard way this afternoon, but Murty will be happy with his players’ efforts and their determination to get a win for the 30,000 fans who attended the match on a bitterly cold and wet afternoon.
After the last 48 hours a straightforward passage through to the quarter-finals would have been the perfect scenario for the loyal Ibrox faithful, but after just seven minutes of play their side went a goal down.
A long ball up the park was headed at full stretch by Clint Hill to Andy Halliday, but the midfielder’s touch with his knee went to Aidan Nesbitt, who flicked it over Philippe Senderos’ head into the path of his strike partner Michael Tidser.
From 20 yards the number 12 still had a lot to do but his low left-foot volley beat Wes Foderingham in front of a shocked Copland Road Stand.
Rangers now had to show their mettle and they did so by equalising just six minutes later through that man Miller.
A big kick-out from Foderingham fell to McKay in a dangerous attacking position and, after accelerating effortlessly beyond his marker, the winger’s powerful shot was parried away by Derek Gaston back into the 18-yard box.
Miller, as ever, reacted quickest and his shot took a nick off a defender before nestling in the corner of the net.
The goal was just what was required, and fans were out of their seats again when Emerson Hyndman curled a terrific shot from 18 yards which clipped the top of the crossbar with Gaston well beaten.
Rangers were now more of an attacking threat and before the half hour mark a good delivery from James Tavernier on the right saw Holt glance a header inches wide of the post with Ton’s number one scrambling across his line.
An injury to Michael Doyle meant Jim Duffy had to introduce Jamie McDonagh to the game at right back with 38 minutes on the clock, with the sub given the tricky task of marking man of the match McKay who was a constant threat in the first half.
Murty elected to stick with the same eleven players for the start of the second, although the coach must have been worried when Halliday went down in considerable pain after a 50-50 challenge with Jamie Lindsay. Thankfully, both players were able to continue following treatment.
On 52 minutes Morton will wonder how they never regained the lead.
Senderos appeared to lose the flight of the ball in the air and it hit his arm and fell to Tidser who played a simple through pass to Nesbitt who was in acres of space and one-on-one with Foderingham.
The on-loan Celtic forward will have nightmares about what followed however, as he somehow scooped the ball over the crossbar to the dismay of his manager.
If that was a remarkable let-off for Rangers, Morton then had one of their own as Waghorn was given time to control the ball but his left-foot shot across goal crept agonisingly wide with Gaston wrong-footed.
The South Shields striker was to get his name on the scoresheet though as he put his side 2-1 up on the hour mark after excellent build-up play involving Halliday, McKay, Holt and Hyndman.
Their good work meant Waggy had the simplest of tasks to roll the ball into the net eleventh goal in all competitions.
With a narrow lead in place Rangers now went all out for a third goal, with Tavernier firing a shot from distance which Gatson did well to hold, before Waghorn headed narrowly wide.
As the sleet rain battered onto the playing surface Murty’s men had to retain their focus with Jamie Lindsay coming closest to scoring his side’s second in the latter stages. His curling shot from 25 yards could only have been a yard wide of the top corner.
In the end Rangers did more than enough to progress today and while the style of play and the shape of Murty’s team were the same as Warburton’s, the caretaker boss will be thrilled to have watched his side battle for a deserved victory over a tricky opponent.
RANGERS: Foderingham; Tavernier, Senderos, Hill, Wallace (Hodson 83); Holt (O’Halloran 62), Halliday, Hyndman (Toral 80); Waghorn, Miller, McKay
SUBS NOT USED: Alnwick, Wilson, Garner, Forrester, Hodson
GOALS: Miller 13, Waghorn 61
MORTON: Gaston; Doyle (McDonagh 38), Kilday, O’Ware, Lamie (Donnelly 70); Forbes, Lindsay, Murdoch, Russell; Nesbitt, Tidser
SUBS NOT USED: McGowan, Oyenuga, Scullion, Tiffoney, Strapp
GOALS: Tidser 7