RANGERS didn’t make it easy for themselves as they required extra-time to reach the League Cup semi-finals.
Pedro Caixinha’s side conceded in the final minute of normal time after it looked like a solo header from Carlos Pena would separate the sides. The Mexican nodded home impressively early in the second-half but the Gers failed to capitalise on their lead despite one-on-one chances for both Alfredo Morelos and Daniel Candeias.
Kris Doolan fired Thistle level with barely a kick of the game left, leaving the Gers with half an hour to find a winner for a trip to the national stadium. Candeias scored a powerful left-footed drive within four minutes of the re-start and then Eduardo Herrera added to the tally with a near post flick to book a place in the final four.
Rangers started brightly, looking to tear into Thistle’s backline with a front three made up of Josh Windass, Alfredo Morelos and Daniel Candeias but it was the home side who carved out the first chance of the game on eight minutes. Blair Spittal saw his shot deflected out for a corner and he whipped the resulting dead ball onto the head of Niall Keown. Jak Alnwick saved with little trouble from the centre-half.
Rangers responded immediately as James Tavernier tried what resembled an overhead kick. The full-back was lingering on the far side of the box as Candeias curled a free-kick from the right flank into a busy penalty area. The effort went over the bar.
Candeias had his own chance moments later, taking time to find space on the edge of the box, turn 360 degrees and then drill a shot over the crossbar.
The Light Blues should have been ahead when Josh Windass missed an open goal with his side’s best chance of the half. Alfredo Morelos looked keen to carrying on his scoring streak and he nearly opened the scoring on 25 minutes when he span and shot with frightening power from the edge of the box. Somehow Ryan Scully managed to parry the ball back out into the path of the waiting Windass. After taking a moment to compose himself the 23-year-old mishit and side-footed the follow up across the six yard box with just the keeper to beat.
A huge double of saves from Alnwick kept Rangers in the game as half-time drew close. Thistle looked dangerous on the break when Carlos Pena saw himself disposed on the edge of their box on 37 minutes. The home side raced up the other end and despite having options in the box Conor Sammon took it on himself and worked his way in from the left flank to shoot. The Hearts loanee managed to get a pacey looking snapshot away on the angle and Alnwick did well to get down to his right and palm the ball around the base of the upright.
Sammon followed up that effort four minutes later and again it was Alnwick who saved Rangers from going a goal down. Ryan Edwards sent a glancing header across the face of goal and the Gers keeper was forced into a superb reactionary stop as the towering striker tried to nod into the top corner from close range.
When Morelos went through one-on-one with Scully on 52 minutes you would have banked on him to bury the ball deep into the far corner of Thistle’s net. The Colombian latched onto a through ball from Candeias, ran down the keeper and then slotted the ball through his legs but it sped the wrong side of the post by just inches.
The Gers early pressure in the second period paid off and three minutes later they had the lead they had been desperately searching for from the head of Pena. Candeias delivered an out swinging corner in from the left and the Mexican had taken up position on the corner of the six yard box. No one picked him up and he did well to arch his neck and loop the ball into the top corner from a difficult angle.
Four minutes after the hour mark Alnwick was at full stretch to push a Sammon strike from the edge of the box out for a corner. Rangers broke from that set-piece and Candeias found himself just the other side of the half-way line with only Christie Elliott on his shoulder for company. The Portuguese’s pace took him away from the defender and as he rounded Scully just inside the box the ball look destined for the back of the net. He skied his finish though.
Rangers had tried and failed to cushion their lead and with eight minutes to go Thistle went agonisingly close. The Gers new look backline, with first-team debutant Ross McCrorie and Lee Hodson now on to replace Alves and John, failed to deal with a corner from the right. After some pinball in the air it fell to Danny Devine seven yards out and he lashed the ball goalwards, Alnwick made himself big and prevented any more damage with another excellent stop.
After a saving clearance from Cardoso in the final minute of the game it looked like Rangers had done enough to see themselves through but Kris Doolan had other ideas when Paul McGinn crossed from the right. The second-half sub turned in front of Alnwick at the back post, brushed off Tavernier and buried the ball into the roof of the net to send the tie to extra time.
It took Rangers four minutes of extra time to pull themselves ahead again – Candeias finishing sweetly as he drilled the Gers second low and beyond Scully. Tavernier had got down the right to deliver and then Ryan Jack showed great awareness to push the ball out to the former Benfica man on the edge of the area. The winger took a touch to switch to his left and powered the ball home.
Eduardo Herrera added a third on 98 minutes as he cheekily back heeled at the near post. Windass had battled through on the left to get to the by-line and send a fizzing ball across the face of goal. it looked like Rangers chance had gone begging when Holt failed to touch Windass’ cross over the line but Candeias mopped up to keep the ball in play and touched it to the extra-time sub to flick home.
Soon after the turnaround Alnwick had to dive to his right to save from goalscorer Doolan. That was really the tiring home side offered in extra-time.
Tavernier went close with two minutes to go, Scully saving with one hand down to his right after the full-back came in off the flank to shoot low but the game was won.
RANGERS: Alnwick, Tavernier, Cardoso, Alves (McCrorie 76’), John (Hodson 78’); Jack, Dorrans, Pena (Holt 69’); Candeias, Morelos (Herrera 90’), Windass.
Subs not used: Foderingham, Dalcio, Nemane.
Goals: Pena 56’ Candeias 94’ Herrera 98’
Yellows: Hodson 113’
PARTICK THISTLE: Scully, Turnbull (Doolan 56’), Keown, Spittal (Nisbet 83’), Lawless (Bannigan 105’), Barton, Elliott, Devine, McGinn, Sammon, Edwards.
Subs not used: Sneddon, Nitriansky, McCarthy.
Goals: Doolan 90’
Yellows: Lawless 12’ Elliott 109’