RANGERS progressed to the next round of the League Cup thanks to a superb Alfredo Morelos trio of goals.
The Colombian bagged his first Gers hat-trick on an afternoon when he was also denied a clear goal by the officials. Morelos can thank James Tavernier for his goals, the Light Blues captain picked up a hat-trick too but of assists.
Rangers never looked in trouble against Killie as they dominated start to finish in Ayrshire in Steven Gerrard’s first cup tie.
Rangers’ first chance of the game was one of a number of talking points in a frenetic first period. It was in fact a goal but the officials missed Alfredo Morelos’ point blank shot crossing the line. Ryan Kent got to the by-line, down the right, to cut back to the Colombian and he thundered the ball at Stephen O’Donnell, the Killie man on the line. The trouble was the defender was already inside the goal mouth when he cleared the ball away. Replays showed the ball well over the chalk but Nick Walsh waved play on.
The home side nearly dealt the Light Blues a further sickener moments later. Goldson brought down Eamonn Brophy wide on the left flank and Chris Burke then sent in a superb ball from the resulting set piece. It had Wes Foderingham, who was starting his first game of the season, scrambling under his crossbar and he did well to tip the ball over the top for a corner.
Steven Gerrard was then forced into an early change when Jamie Murphy had to be stretched off with just 17 minutes on the clock. The winger twisted his knee on the Rugby Park surface and was left unable to move. Daniel Candeias was a direct replacement.
It was turning into a frantic opening in Ayrshire and it continued when Morelos has a penalty shout waved away. The striker was brought down under a Scott Boyd challenge just inside the box but his protestations were in vain.
Morelos was looking lively and when Goldson picked him out with a well weighted ball over the top he forced Daniel Bachmann into a good stop. It was Rangers best chance of the half so far; bar the goal they should have been given. The 22-year-old took one touch before slamming his shot into the body of the Killie keeper six yards out.
Four minutes later Foderingham saved the Gers from creeping behind. It was another Burke free-kick from the left but this time the former Rangers youngster elected to curl his effort low round the wall. The Gers stopper didn’t see it until late and with himself already committed to the dive, somehow, angled himself to palm the ball up and over the bar.
It seemed like there would be only man one to break the deadlock for Gerrard’s side and Morelos made sure of his impact just before the half hour mark. James Tavernier opened up his stride to storm down the right, collect a well worked ball from the midfield and flash a ball across the area. The cross took a slight touch off a Kilmarnock defender before the Gers frontman nodded in at the far post, leaving Bachmann stranded in the middle of his goal.
Rangers looked in control, a trait their new look defence have instilled, but the game was still end to end. Kilmarnock had only really threatened from deadball situations and when they got a corner on 32 minutes Burke picked out Kirk Broadfoot on the far side. He went close as his header shaved the crossbar.
Scott Arfield had a decent chance from a central free-kick around 25 yards out, which he put just over. Then Foderingham was forced to snuff out a bright attack from Jordan Jones, the Killie winger getting around the back of Tavernier to fizz a dangerous cross in. The stopped blocked it and the Gers regained control as the game headed towards half-time.
Morelos was proving unstoppable for the Killie defence and grabbed his second with two minutes to the turnaround. The self-titled Buffalo wrestled with the home side’s rear guard when Tavernier put a ball over the top for him. When he sprung clear the ball dropped kindly and he cannoned it past Bachmann and into the bottom corner from a tight angle.
Rangers began the second period playing keep ball but the moment they lost possession Kilmarnock popped up to pull one back. Steve Clarke’s side broke down the left and Jones produced another dangerous ball across the face of goal. Borna Barisic turned the cross into his own net under pressure.
Morelos was determined to put breathing distance between the two sides again and claim the hat-trick he had been denied. Just before the hour mark he went so close when a flowing attack from the left found its way inside, via a deft lay-off from Arfield. The 22-year-old lifted his central shot from the edge of the box and Bachmann had to tip it over the crossbar to keep his side in the game.
Rangers were on the attack again moments later. This time with Morelos sitting deeper on the right he held the ball up, span, and flicked onto Candeias who set off at a sprint down the wing. The Portuguese picked out Arfield in the middle first time with the cutback and the 29-year-old fired a low strike which Bachmann pushed against the post. Morelos’ chances were racking up and he forced another save from the resulting corner. This time planting a header goalwards from a Barisic corner.
At long last with 16 minutes left to play Morelos had his hat-trick. Tavernier was provider again with a ball which left the Killie defence standing still and the Gers top scorer just had to apply the finishing touches to tap over the line.
Kris Boyd tried to peg the Gers back again when he flicked on a free-kick but Foderingham got down and saved low to his left.
The Liverpool duo of Ryan Kent and Ovie Ejaria tried their luck late on in the same move but were both denied by Bachmann.
RANGERS: Foderingham, Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Barisic, Halliday, Arfield (McCrorie 80’), Ejaria, Kent, Murphy (Candeias 17’), Morelos (Sadiq 80’)
Subs not used: Alnwick, Jack, Flanagan, Middleton
Goals: Morelos 27’ 43’ 74’
Yellows: Candeias 24’ Morelos 60’
KILMARNOCK: Bachmann, O’Donnell, Taylor, Broadfoot, S.Boyd (Ndjoli 80’), Power (Wilson 80’), Dicker, Jones, Burke, K.Boyd, Brophy.
Subs not used: MacDonald, Waters, Graham, Kiltie, Cameron.
Goals: Barisic OG 51’
Yellows: Dicker 21’ Power 72’