The Scottish Mail on Sunday
A TOUGH SLOG FOR RANGERS
Gerrard’s men suffer from another attack of the winter blues before a late goal blitz shoots down Accies
STORM Ciara had barely started to show her teeth, yet Rangers still managed to make heavy weather of progression to the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup.
A Scott Arfield double and a first goal of 2020 for a struggling Alfredo Morelos were bright spots for Steven Gerrard in the tournament’s first tie of the weekend.
However, until Joe Aribo nudged his team in front with a classy finish midway through the second half, this had been another sluggish performance in keeping with how Rangers have started the year.
Trailing to Arfield’s early goal on the rebound from his missed penalty, Accies were denied a spot-kick of their own when Connor Goldson handled in the box soon after Lewis Smith’s equaliser.
Just as Hamilton had given Celtic a scare in last weekend’s Premiership meeting at the Fountain of Youth Stadium, they ran out of steam, but scarcely deserved to lose by another 4-1 scoreline.
Eager to compete for this trophy, Gerrard was close to full strength but found himself two men down in the technical area, owing to the suspensions dished out in midweek to coaches Michael Beale and Tom Culshaw.
With Accies boss Brian Rice also up in the stand as he serves an extended ban for betting offences, the directors’ box was unusually crowded.
While Rangers went strong, the Accies line-up was something of a puzzle. Marios Ogmkpoe put Rice’s men in front last week, leading impressively from the front in a performance that, for an hour, gave Celtic a proper test.
Here, he was relegated to the role of substitute. David Templeton, scorer of a midweek goal against St Mirren, was not even on the bench for what coach Guillaume Beuzelin revealed were ‘preventative’ reasons. Five of Rangers’ six previous fixtures since the winter break had come at Ibrox but home advantage stretches only so far when tension is rising in the stands and the visitors were able to work through their problems without the weight of 40,000 plus groans in their ears.
They should have taken the lead inside five minutes. Glen Kamara’s clever footwork created a chance for Ryan Kent to hit the byeline and the winger picked out
Ianis Hagi with his cross.
In midweek, the son of Romania great Gheorghe was the matchwinner with a late goal against Hibs. The midfielder’s head proved less reliable, however, than his right foot and the ball flew wide of Accies’ goal.
Gerrard doesn’t often tinker with his team’s shape but there was a subtle tweak to Rangers’ formation with Joe Aribo pushing up from the usual midfield three in support of Morelos. Rangers seemed keen to have Morelos isolate Accies’ young centreback Jamie Hamilton, who was shown a straight red for hauling down Leigh Griffiths in the pivotal moment of last
week’s league fixture. The ploy won Rangers a penalty as Morelos, having initially lost control of the situation, managed to burrow on. Just as in the game against Celtic, Hamilton found himself caught wrong side and clumsily toppled the Colombian striker.
Rangers have struggled to find a reliable penalty taker all season and Arfield did little to advance his claim with a weak spot-kick that was matched only by goalkeeper Luke Southwood’s unconvincing save, which parried the ball straight back at the midfielder for a tap-in.
‘We are still searching for this person to come to the front and become our penalty taker,’ remarked Gerrard afterwards. ‘On the evidence so far, we might have to go back to James (Tavernier).’
Rangers ought to have taken control and probably would have had Morelos not blasted another chance straight at the keeper.
Instead, it was Hamilton who came to the fore, largely down to the two enforced substitutions that saw Andy Dales — hurt by a Kent challenge that raised a penalty claim of its own — and Steve Davies hobble off.
Ogkmpoe and Mikel Miller came on and immediately enlivened the home team.
The former set up the equaliser by galloping in behind and feeding the supporting Smith on the right channel. The youngster faced up George Edmundson, shifted the ball onto his right foot and drew an accurate finish across Rangers keeper Allan McGregor.
The game wide open, Hagi and Morelos missed further opportunities and then Hamilton had another glaring penalty shout when Goldson handled then landed on the ball while trying to block an Alex Gogic cross. Referee Alan Muir was unmoved.
The last thing Accies needed was another injury but Miller, who came off worst after an excellent saving tackle from Kamara, did not re-emerge for the second half.
As ever, Gerrard looked to his full-backs to provide width but Tavernier and Borna Barisic were struggling to find a telling cross between them. The Croatian later hobbled off and is a doubt for Rangers’ trip to Kilmarnock in midweek.
‘It’s a bit of a hip-flexer situation but we don’t think he has pulled a muscle,’ said Gerrard.
Rangers were struggling for fluency but they nudged in front midway through the second half.
Kent delivered the assist for Aribo’s goal, cutting the ball back for a first-time shot across goal from the former Charlton player.
Morelos grabbed his goal after a cross from Greg Stewart spun up into the air, the perfect invitation for a simple headed finish.
Arfield finished things off with the best goal of the day, rifling the ball into the top corner from 20 yards.