RANGERS saw off the challenge of Ian McCall’s Ayr United with the utmost professionalism and yet again some terrific style to reach the Quarter Finals of the Petrofac Cup.
Manager Mark Warburton made no less than five alterations to his starting line-up from the side which defeated Alloa Athletic 5-1 on Sunday with Dominic Ball and Nathan Oduwa making their starting debuts, while Dean Shiels, Nicky Clark and Tom Walsh also came in for Kenny Miller, Martyn Waghorn, Nicky Law, Andy Halliday and Rob Kiernan.
On what was a shocking night on the Clyde coast, more than 5000 Rangers fans braved the howling wind and hammering rain to support their team in quite excellent fashion once more, with the majority of them unfortunately stationed on the uncovered North Terrace at Somerset Park, thus braving the worst of what the Scottish summer could throw at them.
As has generally been the case this season so far, Rangers began brightly and Nicky Clark tested home goalkeeper Greg Fleming with a low drilled shot inside the opening few minutes, but the stopper had no difficulty in gathering the effort.
Nathan Oduwa showed no signs of being affected by this week’s news coverage over his dazzling piece of skill at Recreation Park on Sunday with some good early touches, although he found himself on the end of a strong Alan Trouten challenge which resulted in the Ayr man being shown a yellow card.
No possession stats were available to the assembled press pack unfortunately, but if they were, they would undoubtedly weigh at least 80-20 in Rangers’ favour in the opening period with Warburton’s men taking almost complete ownership of the football.
It was only going to be a matter of time before Ayr’s defensive resistance cracked under that immense pressure, and sure enough Rangers were ahead on the 14 minute mark through Nicky Clark.
Some tremendous build-up play out on the left-hand side saw Jason Holt pop up on the edge of the six-yard box and he cut a perfect pass back for Clark to sweep home to give Rangers a thoroughly merited lead for all their early play.
Almost straight from the restart, the Light Blues were in again, and this time Wallace was the provider for Clark who saw his effort well saved by Fleming before the Honest Men scrambled the ball away to relative safety.
Rangers were in complete control, although they came close to pressing the self-destruct button when Craig Moore caught out Wes Foderingham when the goalie went to claim a loose pass out on the touchline, but the on-loan Motherwell forward could only send a first-time effort into the side netting.
The visitors regained their composure, and James Tavernier stung Fleming’s palms with a fierce drive from 25-yards before Gerry McLaughlin smuggled the ball away to safety.
Ross Caldwell was the latest Ayr player to have a swipe at Oduwa, and he too saw yellow for his trouble after the on-loan Tottenham man did extremely well to take the ball past him.
Greg Fleming was having some night in the Ayr goal, and Tom Walsh was next on his list to be foiled after the ball broke to him inside the area, and with all the time in the world, he found only the body of the on-rushing goalkeeper before he chased down the resultant cleared ball and played it back in for Clark who again was denied by Fleming.
Any thoughts of this becoming a frustrating evening for Rangers were extinguished by Barrie McKay three minutes before half time though as he extended the lead to 2-0.
After Brian Gilmour had given the ball away in midfield for Ayr, Tom Walsh strode forward majestically with it before picking out McKay on the left who steadied himself before firing past Fleming.
Alan Forrest replaced Ross Caldwell for Ayr at half time, and his first act was to be booked seconds after the restart for diving under an alleged challenge from Dominic Ball inside the Rangers penalty area.
Young Forrest was making quite an impression, and his next burst down the left saw him deliver a teasing ball that Dean Shiels did well to clear before the on-rushing Gilmour met it for the home side.
Again, Rangers were almost their own worst enemy in defence when a loose Shiels ball was picked up in midfield by Moore, and he raced towards goal before being met with an excellent Ball tackle and then the Ayr man was booked for a late challenge on Foderingham when he went to clear the loose ball.
James Tavernier was having a quieter night than of late, but he burst back onto the scene when he broke forward with pace on the 70 minute mark before clipping a neat ball into the middle although the already-arrived Oduwa was to see his hopes of a potential debut goal sail just over the top of his head.
Some of the amassed ranks of the blue faithful behind the goal then thought they had a goal to cheer when substitute Martyn Waghorn played in Holt, but his shot found the side netting rather than the target on the other side of the post.
Waghorn’s direct running has caused every opposition team a problem this season, and he provided a great ball for Clark to kill the tie stone dead, but he somehow hit the post from close range with Fleming stranded.
The chances were beginning to pile up for Rangers with Holt and then Waghorn himself coming close, and at the other end Moore missed a good chance for Ayr when he blasted over the bar after getting on the end of a Nicky Devlin cut-back.
But 2-0 it finished, and Rangers now take their place in tomorrow afternoon’s quarter-final draw.
Rangers: Foderingham; Tavernier (Aird, 81), Ball, Wilson, Wallace; Shiels, Holt, Walsh (Law, 59); Oduwa, McKay (Waghorn, 72), Clark.
Subs not used: Kelly, Kiernan, Miller, Halliday.
Ayr: Fleming, Devlin, Boyle, Docherty, McLauchlan, Murphy, Caldwell (Forrest, 45), Gilmour (Nisbet, 74), Moore, Trouten, Donald (Crawford, 59).
Subs not used: Newman, Adams, McCracken, Muir.
Referee: Mr Stephen Finnie