Rangers came through a real test as they beat Kilmarnock 3-1 at Rugby Park to progress into the League Cup quarter-finals. A hat-trick from Alfredo Morelos saw off the challenge of Steve Clarke’s organised side. Given the squad rotation and heavy schedule so far this month, it was an impressive performance from Gerrard’s side. An injury to Jamie Murphy was the only real negative, bringing the debate about this style of pitch to the fore again.
Rangers started the match with 3 changes from the Maribor match. Wes Foderingham made his first appearance of the season in goal. Barisic was brought into left-back, meaning that Halliday moved into midfield. Lastly, Kent replaced Candeias wide right. Kilmarnock started with their preferred 4-4-2, set up to play on the counter. Jones and Burke were in the wide areas, with Brophy supporting Boyd up front.
The match started with Kilmarnock winning a couple of set-pieces. A foul by Tavernier allowed Boyd to get a shot in from a free-kick, and the deflected ball was eventually cleared for a corner. From that corner, Rangers were able to clear under some pressure.
It was a set-piece for Rangers that provided the first talking point of the match. The corner from Kent wasn’t dealt with and fell to the feet of Morelos. His left-foot shot was poor, more a prod with his studs than an actual contact. However, the ball did cross the line just as O’Donnell was clearing it. The referee wouldn’t have been able to call it, but the linesman should have seen the goal. The claims from Morelos and Murphy were ignored, and the goal wasn’t given.
13 minutes later, Rangers were dealt a real blow as Jamie Murphy went down off the pitch after chasing a ball to the byline. He instantly looked in real pain and was stretchered off to be replaced by Candeias.
It took Rangers a few minutes to get settled after that injury. The first real chance fell to Morelos, who was played in by Candeias. He got a strong shot away on the right, but Bachmann in goal was able to save at his near post.
After 25 minutes, Wes Foderingham kept the score at 0-0 with a top-class save. A free-kick curled in by Burke missed everyone. Despite seeing the ball at the last second, Foderingham was able to get down to his left and somehow push the ball away for a corner.
That proved to be pivotal as Rangers took the lead two minutes later. Some patient play in midfield allowed Arfield to find Tavernier in space on the right. His cross took a slight deflection, and Morelos was waiting at the back post to nod in the first goal. The movement from the striker was excellent to find space in the box.
Kilmarnock created a couple of chances after that. Broadfoot hit the bar with a header from a corner. Jones then found space on the left, but his cutback was deflected clear by Katic. With 3 minutes of the half remaining, they were punished for those misses as Rangers made it 2-0.
A ball through from Tavernier didn’t look threatening, but Morelos made it so with some great strength. He held off Scott Boyd and was able to turn him to get free in the box. His first time shot across the goalkeeper was strong enough to find the far corner despite a touch from the on-loan stopper.
Rangers knew that Kilmarnock would look to get back into the game as quickly as possible. The fans were in fine voice as a move 5 minutes into the half saw the team pass the ball well. However, Tavernier wasn’t able to keep the ball on the byline, and the Kilmarnock clearance led to their goal.
Jones had a lot of time and space to run into, and the ball was worked to the other wing for Chris Burke. He beat Barisic to get a cross in that was overhit. When Jones got the ball and turned, he was faced by Arfield. The Rangers midfielder made it easy for him as he put in a poor challenge, and Jones ran to the byline. His cross took a small touch off of Boyd and was deflected into the net by Barisic. Suddenly, Kilmarnock were back in the match.
A stoppage for a head knock between Katic and Brophy saw the Rangers defender need to be bandaged up. The tempo of the match was being disrupted, but Rangers were looking better on the ball and created a great chance for Morelos. Good play in midfield sent Arfield on the run, and he found Morelos in space just outside the box. The striker hit a first-time shot with his left foot, and it was tipped over the bar by Bachmann.
With 64 minutes played, Rangers came close to extending their lead. Great play by Morelos sent Candeias clear on the right. His cutback found Arfield in space, but his left foot shot was saved well by Bachmann. From the corner, Barisic played in a great ball, and Morelos saw a header saved under some pressure.
Only 9 minutes later, Morelos got the hat-trick he deserved. Some great play by Ejaria found Arfield in space inside the box. He played a good pass to Tavernier on the run, and his cross was easily tapped in by Morelos at the back post. The football and movement for the goal was excellent.
Kilmarnock kept pressing and saw a Boyd header well saved by Foderingham. A couple of minutes later, Bachmann made another good save, stopping a low shot from Ejaria from distance. Substitutions broke up the flow of the match as Rangers looked to see out the game. The only moment of note was a ball over the top which saw Boyd go down and claim a penalty. Replays showed that the incident didn’t merit one, however.
Kilmarnock had a great record against Rangers last season. Given everything, this match looked to be a difficult one. The early injury to Murphy could have easily disrupted the side as well. Instead, Rangers were strong all over the pitch, dealt with the set-piece and direct threat of Kilmarnock, and should have scored more than the three goals they managed. It’s been clear there’s improvement in Rangers this season, and this match was more tangible evidence of that.
Foderingham, Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Barisic, Halliday, Arfield (McCrorie 80’), Ejaria, Kent, Murphy (Candeias 17’), Morelos (Sadiq 80’)
Subs not used: Alnwick, Jack, Flanagan, Middleton
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.