A STUNNING Nicky Clark goal 15 minutes from time sealed Rangers’ passage to the semi-finals of the Petrofac Training Cup at the expense of a stubborn Livingston side tonight.
Mark Burchill’s Lions tried everything in their repertoire to repel Mark Warburton’s Gers, and it looked as if they were going to be successful until Clark struck to knock out the holders and set-up a showdown with St Mirren to reach the final.
Boss Warburton made two changes to the side which defeated Queen of the South in dramatic fashion on Saturday with Kenny Miller and Dean Shiels dropping out for Nathan Oduwa and Nicky Law respectively.
There was concern for the Gers inside the opening minute as new man Oduwa was the recipient of a crunching tackle from Kieran Gibbons, but despite requiring treatment from physio Stevie Walker, he was soon back on his feet and playing a role in the first chance of the game for his side.
He burst inside from his right wing berth and found Martyn Waghorn inside the box, and he in turn found Lee Wallace, who under pressure from the Livingston defence, could find only the gloves of goalie Marc McCallum with his shot.
Livingston were doing well to deny Warburton’s men from creating too many clear-cut chances in the early stages, but when one came along, the Gers were somehow denied the opening goal with a quite extraordinary last-ditch clearance by Livi’s Ben Gordon.
Martyn Waghorn charged forward from midfield and sprayed the ball wide to Oduwa again out on the right. He then delivered a delicious cross straight onto the head of James Tavernier who bulleted the ball towards goal only to see it hooked clear at the last possible second by the toe of Gordon.
It was an incredible block from the defender, and it seemed to give the visitors confidence as they at last began to threaten when Gary Glen found Jordan White with some space on the edge of the area, but he rather toe-poked an effort at goal which slipped well wide.
Oduwa was trying his best to create opportunities for Rangers, but he was on the end time and again of some especially rough treatment from the visitors, the latest hard tackle on him coming from Declan Gallagher right on the edge of the area after the Englishman had tried to skin him.
The resultant free-kick was disappointing however as Andy Halliday found only the first yellow-shirted defender and again the ball was cleared away.
Halliday was beginning to make his presence felt in the game, but he found only the arms of McCallum with a 25-yard volley after being fed by Barrie McKay, and seconds later, Waghorn would have hoped to do better when a lovely interchange between Lee Wallace and Jason Holt saw the latter set-up the top goalscorer inside the area, but again the goalkeeper was there to gather.
At last the chances were starting to flow, and Nicky Law would have hoped to do better when Nathan Oduwa found him eight yards from goal but he blasted over the bar under little pressure.
At the beginning of the second half with Warburton’s words no doubt ringing in their ears, there was a renewed vigour to Rangers, and Andy Halliday came close with a 25-yard drive which was deflected just over before Jason Holt found some space inside the area from the resultant corner, but he blasted his effort wide.
It was all Rangers, and Rob Kiernan would have hoped to do better with a header from a McKay corner which he nodded down into the ground before McCallum gathered, and then McKay was involved again as he flashed a teasing ball across the face of goal which evaded both Nicky Law and half-time substitute Nicky Clark inside the area.
McKay was beginning to have a lot more joy, and he was involved yet again as he and Kiernan combined for a second time – on this occasion when a short corner found the young winger – and he crossed for the big centre-half but with time and some space, he couldn’t sort his feet out and skewed an effort well wide.
The frustration was growing around Ibrox, and twice in quick succession, the home side should have quelled some of that anxiety as firstly Nicky Law saw an effort parried by McCallum, but it fell straight to Nicky Clark who somehow fired over with the whole empty goal to aim at.
Again Livingston were being rather physical in their approach to the game, and one tackle too many from Hugo Faria saw him finally booked, but assistant manager David Weir had a little too much to say over the incident and found himself being spoken to by referee Andrew Dallas.
As the clocked ticked over to 75 minutes, thoughts were beginning to turn to a potential extra-time period, but Nicky Clark put that to bed with a stunning 25 yard drive to give Rangers the lead.
Picking up the ball just to the left of the ‘D’, he unleashed a terrific half-volley into the opposite corner to calm the Ibrox nerves at long last.
Knowing they were heading out, Livi committed more and more men forward, thus leaving more space at the back for Rangers to attack, and the home side should have had the game put to bed when Waghorn stood a ball up for Clark at the back post but he headed wide of the target.
But 1-0 it finished for Rangers, and they now have a semi-final clash with Sunday’s league opponents St Mirren to look forward to.
RANGERS (4-3-3): Foderingham; Tavernier, Ball, Kiernan, Wallace; Halliday, Holt, Law; McKay, Waghorn, Oduwa (Clark, 45).
SUBS NOT USED: Kelly, Walsh, Hardie, Thompson, Aird, Miller.
LIVINGSTON: McCallum, Millen (Georgieu, 87), Longridge, Gordon, Faria, White, Gallagher, Neill, Gibbons, Buchanan (Sheerin, 76), Glen (Currie, 86).
SUBS NOT USED: Jamieson, Georgieu, Currie, Duckrell.
REFEREE: Mr Andrew Dallas