IBROX - A scarcely packed crowd watched Rangers produce an accomplished performance, making sure a Scottish Cup slip-up was avoided. Fluidity from back to middle cut through a deep and tight defensive block. An adventurous front two from Cowdenbeath hinted at a positive approach, but was snuffed out as Rangers settled into their rhythm. A tidy display saw Rangers run-out comfortable winners against the Blue Brazil.
Two changes for Rangers saw Law and Kiernan drop out. Dominic Ball came in to make a back five of Foderingham, Wallace, Wilson and Tavernier. Halliday and the sprightly Holt retained their places, with Zelalem stepping in to make the midfield three. A front three of McKay, Waghorn and Miller completed the 4-3-3 line-up.
Cowdenbeath made one change from the team that narrowly lost to runaway League One leaders Dunfermline, with Brett replacing Kane in a solid 4-4-2. The Blue Brazil had to do without the ineligible on-loan Ranger Andy Murdoch, but their team still included individuals who have caused problems for Rangers in the past. Greig Spence was part of the Raith Rovers and Alloa Athletic sides that humbled Rangers in successive Challenge Cup campaigns.
A front two from Cowdenbeath suggested a positive approach, but from the kick-off Rangers settled into their dominant possession game. Second-striker Gordon Smith was forced to drop into midfield, making a solid 4-5-1. Allowing Rangers possession, the Blue Brazil settled into a defensive block.
From the outset there was more fluidity from Rangers from back to middle. Attacking moves started from the two centre-backs. The primary pass was out wide to the full-backs, but this tended to restrict passing options. A variation on the first-phase, with Wilson in possession, allowed Wallace to bomb forward and Halliday shuttled left into a make-shift back-three -- reminiscent of Gareth Barry of Everton. From there 3-4 passing lanes were opened up.
The general game-plan remained the same: to work the ball wide and either take on the full-back or slot balls in behind. Waghorn and Miller interchanged position, with one or the other taking a wide berth and drifting inside to link-up with their partner. McKay hugged the touchline, widening the pitch and creating space for Zelalem and Holt.
Zelalem and Holt in reply zipped around the channels and half-spaces, fluid in their movement. Holt was an anonymous but tireless worker, lacking the plaudits through a lack of a killer-ball or his customary goal; nevertheless, an important figure. Zelalem interchanged position with Wallace and McKay to great effect. When Wallace drifted inside for the one-two, Zelalem would drift out wide, covering and creating a passing triangle. The on-loan Ranger was always looking to play balls forward, creating difficult angles to defend against; it was unfortunate his team-mates could never play a similar ball to him when he found space in central areas.
The tireless Wallace rarely over-lapped (with a deep defensive block, Cowdenbeath would deal with any over-lap easily), but would again prefer the under-lap, cutting through the channel, between full-back and centre-back; defenders were unsure how to track him.
The first goal came from just this move. Wallace following up his pass into the striker, before a penetrative under-lap cuts through the defensive block; Miller slots in a delightful through-ball to Wallace, who slid the ball under the 'keepers legs.
The second came from McKay. He picked the ball up inside his own half and ran at the retreating defenders before cutting inside and firing a dipping ball into the far corner.
The counter-press was used to win the ball back quickly; McKay, Zelalem and Halliday won the ball back on numerous occasions. Tavernier played a little deeper and narrower, providing an extra body in a central area in which to cover. Generally the centre-backs dealt with any danger, cutting out the ball rather than following the defender. When they weren't shielded by the midfielders however, they seemed to panic. Ball conceded a sloppy free-kick from such a situation. Foderingham had no change with a pin-point free-kick.
Another three goals were added in the second-half from similar moves (albeit two from penalties): intricate wing-play, fluid movement and incisive running had the Blue Brazil running about daft. Waghorn swiftly dispatched his first, second -- out-muscling his defender and assisted by a deft touch from Zelalem -- and third into the net.
Towards the end several changes were made, leading to a loss of shape. Shiels replaced Halliday in the defensive-midfield role and recycled the ball well, was adept at playing forward passing, cutting through defensive lines. Debutant Forrester replaced Zelalem, and looked lively: always looking to run at his defender but made wrong decisions in his eagerness. The impressive Miller made way for Hardie. Th Scotland under 19 striker stuck to his role well, taking up the central and wide position when required -- perhaps evidence of the same system played at youth level?
Once Halliday and Zelalem left the field Rangers lost organisation and shape, with several players occupying forward positions and then inter-changing with each other. The game was over at this point, but in their eagerness to add to the tally most players took up central positions adding to an already congested midfield.
The fluidity of movement from Rangers was impressive, building on the dominant possession-based foundation. Zelalem and Halliday controlled the middle of the park and dictated the play. Wallace was always a threat with his incisive under-laps cutting through Cowdenbeath's defensive block. However, Man-of-the-match had to be McKay. He did the graft, tracking back and helping to retain possession, but was the main attacking threat, targeting and running at defenders all game; rounding off the performance with a sublime solo effort. It was a bit of a training-session in the end, but the main thing is progression.
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