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Albion Rovers 0 Rangers 2: Ibrox side are ready to tell a football story again

THE Rangers saga has been more concerned with balance sheets than clean sheets but there is a football story developing at Ibrox with all the force and unpredictability of a turbulent weather system.

Fraser Aird nips in ahead of his marker to open the scoring for Rangers. Picture: SNS
Fraser Aird nips in ahead of his marker to open the scoring for Rangers. Picture: SNS

The dismissal of Albion Rovers at New Douglas Park last night was laboured, if ultimately comfortable, but it has set up a semi-final with Dundee United in the William Cup Scottish Cup.

Rangers, beset by financial questions and under severe scrutiny as to the quality of their side, are one home victory away from a Scottish Cup final. The extraordinary occurrence of a club from the third tier in Scottish football considering such a prospect was, of course, only part of the Rangers story last night as the Dave King mating dance with the Ibrox board went into extra time.

One will have to wait for a month to discover if there are penalties or even a result as the South African businessman issued an ultimatum over strategy at a club that has stumbled from crisis to crisis with an enervating regularity. However, there was no extra time at New Douglas Park and little in the way of crisis for Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager.

A tie that held the threat, however limited, of embarrassment - even humiliation - was negotiated through goals from Fraser Aird and Jon Daly.

Albion Rovers - 15 minutes away from a semi-final after taking the lead at Ibrox - were reduced to one chance in the first half when David Crawford shot strongly from inside the box, but Cammy Bell palmed his effort away. The rest for the Coatbridge side was a matter of work, work. And some more work.

This labour, honest and persistent, was enough to frustrate Rangers, if only temporarily, but the threat to the Ibrox side did not survive the squad's journey to Hamilton.

There could be justifiable reservations about the Rangers performance in a stuttering first half but this was followed by a smoother, more relaxed second period, particularly after Daly's commanding header looped past Neil Parry.

James Ward, the Albion manager, had changed his entire team after the 4-0 defeat by Queen's Park but the fresh legs were not enough to challenge a Rangers side that saw Calum Gallagher handed his first start after the 19-year-old forward scored the second goal in Saturday's 2-0 home SPFL League 1 win over Dunfermline Athletic. Then, he had come off the bench to make his debut. Kyle Hutton also made the first start of his return after breaking his leg in November.

Rangers not only overcame the League 2 side but also a limiting, severe caution. Daly was on his own up front and the midfield struggled to find him or even each other as Rovers retreated into a shell, occasionally flashing forward with more energy than guile.

Rangers were initially unconvincing but the goals settled the side, allowing them to proceed to a routine victory after a far from regulation first attempt at this quarter-final. As more experienced players struggled in the early stages, it was Gallagher who marked his first start with an excellent assist. His arced cross to the near post after 18 minutes begged to be struck into the net and Aird obliged with an acrobatic lunge. Gallagher, too, had a chance to score after the most fluid Rangers move of the match, involving Daly and Foster, but his shot was straight at Parry.

There were mutterings of unease among the Rangers support in the 5354 crowd but their fears were allayed by a nod from Daly that did not demoralise Rovers but left their task to be placed in the Mission: Impossible file.

The Coatbridge side did stretch the uncertainty for almost an hour. It took until the 57th minute for Rangers to gain an advantage that was insurmountable. Richard Foster's deep cross was met in his inimitable style by Daly who placed the ball beyond Parry. The Wee Rovers may have been capable of conjuring up an equaliser but they would have needed David Blaine and David Copperfield up front to create two goals.

They were placed in further jeopardy when Nicky Clark replaced Gallagher, giving Rangers a two-pronged attack to accompany their domination of possession.

But they survived without further damage. Much of this was a result of dogged defending, some of it down to careless finishing and some of it attributable to Rangers' lack of creativity in the final third.

However, these are criticisms that can and will be swept aside as the hoopla builds up to a semi-final at Ibrox next month. Their timeline has concerned 120-day reviews or four-week ultimatums of late. Rangers fans now have a football story to divert them from the angst of takeovers, share issues, short-term loans and fears over the future.

They can anticipate a match with a fine young United side. There is much to be done, much improvement to be made, much to be overcome before a date of May 17 at Celtic Park can be part of the supporters' plans.

But they have an element of bright hope that has been in short supply of late. The King was in town last night but it is a football story that reigned under the New Douglas Park floodlights.

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