RANGERS eased through to the third round of the League Cup after a sparkling display against Gary Bollan’s Diamonds.
With 18-year-old Gedion Zelalem making his debut – and looking a gem in midfield – the Light Blues again put in a polished performance to make it seven competitive wins in a row this season.
The result this evening was never in doubt, especially after a terrific opening 20 minutes which saw Rangers go 3-0 up.
Goals from Nicky Clark, Andy Halliday and Martyn Waghorn meant there was no way back for the Airdrie players who, to be fair, never let their heads go down as they battled to keep the score down.
They managed do that for a while but Dean Shiels added a fourth from close range in the 84th minute before James Tavernier put icing on the cake with yet another spectacular run and finish.
From referee Euan Anderson’s first whistle Rangers looked to retain possession with young Gunner Zelalam getting plenty of touches as he settled into the tie.
This positive start led to the opening goal after just five minutes and it was Clark who got it. Waghorn was brought down on the right wing and Halliday took the free-kick.
As opposed to floating a high delivery he curled his cross low to the near post and Clark was there to flick the ball into the net.
With the travelling Bears in fine voice and clearly out to enjoy their night at New Broomfield, Zelalem then produced some nice skill to get into the box but his shot from a wide angle was deflected out for a corner.
On 14 minutes the visitors doubled their advantage and it was a superb strike from Halliday which beat Neil Parry.
Zelalem passed the ball to Shiels who fed it to Halliday and he did the rest with his bullet left-foot strike almost ripping the net as it found the bottom corner.
If that was good Rangers’ third goal was even better as Waghorn made it 3-0 with just 16 minutes played.
Zelalem used his vision to pick out the English striker as he drifted in behind Airdrie’s left back Chris O’Neil.
With the home side’s defenders rushing back, Waghorn produced an intelligent nutmeg to get into a shooting position before he slotted the ball beyond Parry at his near post.
The football the Rangers players were producing in the early stages was impressive to say the least with the five changes Warburton made to his starting eleven having no impact on the performance whatsoever.
That says a lot about the quality in the squad and on 25 minutes the elusive Nathan Oduwa showed his confidence and class when he cut in from the left and his right foot shot brought out a good save from Parry.
Airdrie, to their credit, did regroup after an initial onslaught but chances kept coming Rangers way before half time with their supporters urging them forward.
Perhaps the best fell to the commanding figure of centre half Dominic Ball when he pushed forward in the 37th minute.
Tavernier crossed for the on-loan Spurs stopper who scooped his shot over the bar when he had time to take a touch in the box.
With no changes in personnel it was Airdrie who started brightly at the start of the second period as they had their first shot within a minute of the restart.
Right back Jamie Bain clipped a clever pass through to striker Bryan Prunty who found space in the 18-yard box but he could only volley over with Rob Kiernan closing him down.
Rangers, however, soon got back in their stride with every player in blue determined to get on the ball and get it down on the Excelsior’s slick artificial surface.
With all eyes on Zelalem, he was constantly looking for space and making angles throughout an impressive display, although there were a few sarcastic cheers from the Rangers fans when he picked the ball out 25 yards from goal and hit a skewed shot which went out for a throw in!
Just after the 60-minute mark Warburton made his first substitution with 18-year-old Ryan Hardie replacing Martyn Waghorn as the Light Blues continued their push for more goals.
On 63 minutes they almost got a fourth and what a beauty it would have been. Halliday again found a pocket of space and from distance he hit a tremendous shot which clattered the crossbar with Parry stranded.
In the 84th minute Rangers finally got a goal their second-half play deserved with Shiels on target. The Ulsterman saw his initial shot saved by Parry but he was quickest to react to dink a finish high into the net.
With the clock ticking down there was still time for Tavernier to produce a moment of magic and he did just that to make it 5-0. The marauding right back produced a mazy run to get into the box before swerving a curling shot into the opposite corner of the net.
At the final whistle the fans in red, white and blue again gave their players a standing ovation and no wonder, this was a another superb performance from a side on the up.
It is, of course, far too early to be dreaming of a 28th success in the League Cup but the early signs suggest Rangers can enjoy a good run this term, albeit they are likely to face a far tougher test in round three when they take on a seeded Premiership team.
Tomorrow’s draw will be held at Hampden at 2.30pm.
AIRDRIEONIANS (4-4-1-1): Parry, Bain, Crighton, Lithgow, O’Neil; Stewart, Smith (Brown 71), Watt, Morton; Cox (Morgan 78); Prunty (Sumsky 60)
SUBS: Ferguson, Van Zanten, Glackin, Cadden
BOOKINGS: Bain, O’Neil
RANGERS (4-3-3): Foderingham; Tavernier, Ball, Kiernan, Wallace; Oduwa, Halliday (McKay 71), Shiels; Waghorn (Hardie 61), Clark, Miller
SUBS: Kelly, Law, Miller, Holt, Wilson
GOALS: Clark 5, Halliday 14, Waghorn 16, Shiels 84, Tavernier 88
REF: Euan Anderson