Rangers passed up the opportunity to win their first major trophy in nine years at the SMISA Stadium in Paisley last night as they went out of the BetFred Cup in a shock defeat to St Mirren.
You have to go back to March 2011 the last time Rangers won a League Cup final. On that day goals from Steven Davis and Nikica Jelavić ensured that Walter Smith had a successful final visit to Hampden as Rangers manager. Davis, the only survivor from that game, was on the scoresheet tonight, but his goal could not stop Rangers from defeat.
With Celtic humiliated in the previous round against Ross County, the odds on Rangers securing their first major trophy in almost a decade looked favourable. But with St Mirren on an undefeated run stretching back to 24 October, this tie always had the potential to be tricky.
Denied the services of Alfredo Morelos thanks to Clare Whyte, the SFA Compliance Officer, Gerrard introduced Swiss striker Cedric Itten. The big striker has arguably made a decent claim for a starting berth of late. Morelos’ folly at Tannadice on Sunday gave him his opportunity. It is hard to argue that he took advantage of it. Gerrard also introduced Calvin Bassey, Bongani Zungu and Scott Arfield in place of Borna Barisic, Steven Davis and Glen Kamara.
Rangers accepted the two game ban for Morelos without complaint, but it is hard to imagine that many at Ibrox will miss Whyte when she vacates her role early next year. You won’t find anyone at Ibrox defending Morelos’ actions at Tannadice, however the fact that he was booked for the incident has raised further questions about consistency when players are cited for retrospective action.
But despite no Morelos, Rangers, who were sporting their new retro kit, didn’t take long to take lead thanks to Connor Goldson. The Englishman has been in about the goals this season and he added to his impressive tally after a superb run and finish in the sixth minute.
From that point Rangers displayed the type of possession football that has typified their season so far. There were opportunities to extend the lead in the first half, and Cedric Itten had a header cleared off the line as Rangers looked to put this game to bed.
However St Mirren were awarded a penalty after 39 minutes after Calvin Bassey brought down Jamie McGrath. Kent was careless with possession in his own half, the transition caught out Bassey and McGrath converted the resultant spot kick to put St Mirren level.
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Rangers started the second-half sluggishly and allowed St Mirren to take the lead on 52 minutes through McGrath again. Dylan Connolly somehow managed to get a weak cross past Bassey and Balogun, and McGrath took advantage of some even more comical defending to pass the ball in from six yards.
From that point on Rangers looked lost and struggled to get back in the game. Gerrard used several substitutions in attempt to reboot his players but it seemed all was lost until the dying minutes of the match when James Tavernier hit another superb free-kick which hit the post, only for Steven Davis to rifle in the rebound past a despairing Jak Alnwick.
At that point it felt like Rangers had saved themselves and that extra-time was inevitable. But further poor defending allowed St Mirren to score in injury-time through Connor McCarthy. Allan McGregor pulled off an excellent save to deny a Tait header, however the rebound fell at McCarthy’s feet who rifled in from short range.
The defeat is a crushing blow to Rangers, who were overwhelming favourites to win the tournament, and Steven Gerrard couldn’t hide his disappointment after the game claiming his players had missed a “big, big opportunity”.
"What they have given me this season has been outstanding. As a group we've enjoyed praise, so we're going to have to take what comes our way, which will be the complete flip of that. We deserve that", he said.
"We've dominated large parts of the game in terms of possession. We haven't built on the first goal and we've concede three sloppy goals. We've got two choices now - we either show a reaction from this and use the disappointment in a positive way or we let it fester and it carries on to the next game.
"At times you're going to get a bump on the road. My job's to pick this group up now. We haven't felt this for a long time, so it's important we react in the right way."
ST MIRREN: Alnwick, Tait, Mason, Shaughnessy, McCarthy, Fraser, Doyle-Hayes, McGrath, Connolly, Erhahon, Obika
SUBS: Lyness, Flynn, Foley, MacPherson, McAllister, Durmus, Dennis, Erwin, Jamieson
RANGERS: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Bassey, Arfield, Zungu, Aribo, Roofe, Kent, Itten.
SUBS: McLaughlin, Helander, Hagi, Defoe, Davis, Patterson, Kamara, Barker, Barisic.
REFEREE: David Dickinson
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