AYR United, from the second division, left Ibrox last night with a cheque for around #200,000 and also with the knowledge that they had come close to producing a major upset in this Coca-Cola Cup third-round clash.

The team who had beaten Kilmarnock in the last round arrived at Ibrox given no chance at all of repeating that surprise victory - but how hard they made it for the champions in front of a massive 44,282 crowd.

The glory of that European Cup win in Russia just two weeks ago was a distant memory as Rangers stumbled with embarrassment to this victory.

Indeed, it was not until the closing minutes that they were able to ensure their place in today's draw for the quarter-finals.

It took late strikes from Paul Gascoigne, with a free kick, and substitute Derek McInnes, in injury time, to decide the tie.

Before then, Andy Goram had made a superb one-handed save from Paul Smith just nine minutes from time.

Ayr manager Gordon Dalziel said: ``What we had to do was come here and do a job as professionals.

``I said to the players beforehand that if they gave 150% effort then they could walk back up that tunnel at the end with their heads held high. They did that tonight.''

Dalziel also revealed that his team plans were struck by injury and illness before the game when Isaac English called off in the morning and Steve Kerrigan was sent home from the team's hotel when he complained about feeling ill.

Rangers assistant manager Archie Knox said: ``The most important thing is that in the end we won the game and we are in the draw for the quarter-finals.''

The first half had suggested, early on, that the match would run as predicted. Rangers swept forward, Ayr defended, and any danger was concentrated around Ayr's veteran keeper Henry Smith.

But Ayr simply would not lie down and, when half-time came, the scores were level and Rangers were facing another of those home games filled with frustration.

In 48 minutes the champions did score and they did so with something of a flourish.

Gascoigne, ineffective for most of the match, pushed a ball in front of the giant German Jorg Albertz, who stepped forward and crashed a superb low left-foot shot from 25 yards past Smith and into the net.

It was the first potent sign of Albertz's famous left foot, and it was saluted by the Ibrox faithful, who then sat back awaiting further goals.

But when it arrived on the hour mark, it was an equaliser for United after a muddle in the Rangers defence.

Paul Kinnaird played in a speculative ball from far out on the right touchline. Despite a clutch of Rangers defenders in the penalty box, the ball came through towards Darren Henderson. He seemed to get a touch, just enough of a touch, to deceive Andy Goram and to give Ayr the goal their courageous display deserved.

Rangers suddenly looked ill at ease. There was a sense of desperation about their play while Ayr, sensing that they might yet have a chance to make history, simply stuck to the tactics which had been successful for them.

Willie Jamieson put a header off target and then nine minutes from the end Andy Goram had that superb save from Smith. Rangers still seemed unable to create the clear-cut chances they needed.

Knox, in charge for the night while manager Walter Smith watched Champions' League opposition in Europe, finally sent on two substitutes. McInnes replaced Charlie Miller 14 minutes from the end, and then Belfast-born youngster Paul McKnight appeared for Ian Durrant.

McKnight, eventually, helped Rangers get their second goal. He was brought down by a clumsy tackle from behind by Ronnie Coyle some 20 yards from goal.

As Smith waited for a power drive from Albertz, who was lining up to take the kick, Gascoigne moved in cheekily ahead of the German to chip a shot which deceived the keeper and went into the net. A roar of relief swept around Ibrox.

In injury time, McInnes added a third when he rifled a low shot into goal from outside the penalty box.

But those who were present will recognise that Rangers once more faced problems on their own ground, problems which may persist throughout the season as teams arrive at their stadium happy to defend and then hit on the break.

There were four bookings in the game, Gordan Petric and Gordon Durie of Rangers, and Kinnaird and Duncan George of Ayr.

RANGERS - Goram, Cleland, Albertz, Gough, Petric, Bjorklund, Durie, Gascoine, Durrant, Miller, Van Vossen. Substitutes - McInnes, Shields, McKnight.

AYR UNITED - Smith, Traynor, Law, Coyle, Jamieson, Hood, George, Connor, P Smith, Henderson, Kinnaird. Substitutes - Biggart, Mercer, C Smith.

Referee - K W Clark (Paisley).

q Cadete hits hat trick for Celtic at Firhill - Page 35


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