MUCH-CHANGED Rangers overcame stubborn League One East Fife in the Betfred Cup this afternoon at a blustery Bayview to book their quarter-final spot.
A strike in the first half from Jermain Defoe was followed after the break by goals from Filip Heander and Joe Aribo to make it a comfortable afternoon on the banks of the Firth of Forth for the Light Blues.
From the side which so impressively came through against Midtjylland in the Europa League in midweek, boss Steven Gerrard made no-less than 10 changes.
Among his alterations was the inclusion of Flip Helander in the starting XI for the first time, while on the bench, new additions Brandon Barker and Andy King were poised for potential debuts, while fit-again Jamie Murphy also sought his competitive comeback after a year out.
Despite the rotation of the squad, the visitors were quickly into a good rhythm, and had a shout for a penalty turned down early-on as Jordan Jones burst beyond Stewart Murdoch down the left and cut into the area only to be seemingly felled by the recovering defender. A goal kick was the award.
Jermain Defoe then made himself an opportunity by superbly jinking away from Ross Dunlop in the area, but his shot was saved low to his right by goalkeeper Jordan Hart.
At the other end, Wes Foderingham was called into action as slackness in defence from Gers allowed Aaron Dunsmore to be unmarked at the back post, but his shot was well charged-down by the English stopper.
Jones was next to come close for the Light Blues, glancing a Greg Docherty cross wide of the far post, while Andy Halliday had a 25-yard free-kick go just over the bar.
On 26 minutes, however, the opening goal arrived for Rangers courtesy of some individual brilliance from Jermain Defoe.
Bringing the ball out of defence, Flip Helander was able to lift his head and find Defoe with his back to goal just on the edge of the ‘D’.
In the same movement, Defoe took the ball into his feet and turned away from marker Dunlop to get himself into the area. The striker waited for Hart to come out, and calmly passed the ball beyond him and into the net.
It was just what Gers needed to open up the motivated and organised East Fife defence, and it should have been 2-0 soon after, with more good work from Docherty on the right ending with Greg Stewart poking a shot wide of the goal.
Defoe then came close to his second, an excellent block from Chris Higgins preventing him from finishing an excellent Jones ball from close-range, while as the ball rebounded about following that, the former England striker struck the post with the loose ball.
Into the second half, and within a minute of the restart, Joe Aribo was denied by an excellent Hart save as he looked to turn home a Jones corner, while as the ball bobbled about in the box in the aftermath, Helander was denied a debut goal as yellow and black-clad shirts threw themselves in front of him.
Defoe then hit the side netting after dancing his way around Hart, before on 56 minutes, the second goal arrived, and it was indeed a debut strike for Helander.
Greg Stewart’s free-kick was won at the back-post by Jones, and he managed to cushion the ball into the path of the big Swede who stooped to nod home and give the visitors some breathing space.
Gerrard was then able to hand those debuts to King and Barker on the hour mark in place of Docherty and Stewart respectively.
Joe Aribo could have had a spectacular third as he danced by the challenges of two East Fife bodies to cruise into the area, but he shot just wide of the far post, while Defoe missed an excellent chance, shooting over the bar when played-in by King.
With six minutes to go, Gers did grab their third and it was Aribo getting himself on the scoresheet, deservedly, following an excellent individual performance.
A corner from Barker wasn’t held by Hart and as the ball rattled around the area, it was eventually put into the net by Aribo for his fourth Rangers goal in just eight appearances.
The Fifers then came close to pulling one back through Scott Agnew, but Foderingham saved well to preserve his clean sheet.
Aribo should have had a second at the end of a flowing move from the Light Blues, but his effort on the end of a Defoe cutback was deflected over the bar as Gers cut their tiring opponents to ribbons at the back.
So 3-0 it finished, as Gers go into the hat for the quarter-finals.
RANGERS: Foderingham; Polster, Helander, Edmundson, Halliday; Docherty (King, 60), Kamara, Aribo; Jones (Hastie, 79), Stewart (Barker, 60), Defoe.
SUBS: Firth, Murphy, Barisic, Katic.
EAST FIFE: Hart, Dunsmore, Higgins, Murdoch, Dunlop, Slattery, Wallace, Agnew, Watt (Watson, 82), Dowds (Duggan, 69), Davidson (Denholm,82).
SUBS: Richardson, Smith, Hunter, Church.
BOOKED: Higgins, Dunlop
REFEREE: Don Robertson