Rangers survived a potential Viaplay Scottish League Cup embarrassment as they came from behind against Championship side Morton at Ibrox to win 2-1 and book their place in the quarter-finals.
Michael Beale’s side, missing half a dozen regulars, found themselves a goal behind and under pressure in the 53rd minute when Morton skipper Grant Gillespie scored with a penalty following a VAR check.
The Greenock side were looking for their first win at Ibrox since 1980 but Rangers striker Cyriel Dessers levelled from the spot on the hour mark, also following VAR intervention. Substitute Danilo fired the home side ahead in the 68th minute and the afternoon became more comfortable for the Light Blues.
While going into Sunday’s last-eight draw, Rangers have to get ready for Tuesday night’s Champions League play-off first leg tie against PSV Eindhoven at Ibrox where the standard of opposition will be tougher, albeit Rangers can take succour from the fact they beat the Dutch side at the same stage of the tournament last season and will have their star players back.
For the first League Cup tie of the season, and with Tuesday in mind, Beale rested skipper James Tavernier, John Souttar, Todd Cantwell, Nicolas Raskin, Ryan Jack and Borna Barisic, which allowed defender Dujon Sterling to make his first start while 20-year-old Johnly Yfeko made his competitive debut.
On the European theme, the visitors had veteran defender Kirk Broadfoot, who played in the 2008 UEFA Cup final for Rangers, in their rearguard – he would have a mixed afternoon – as well as other experienced figures such as goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald and midfielder Alan Power, although manager Dougie Imrie named only four substitutes.
Amid early pressure from the home side MacDonald made saves from Rangers winger Rabbi Matondo and Dessers. In the 18th minute at the other end, Morton’s Robbie Muirhead forced Ibrox keeper Jack Butland into a fine save down at his right-hand post from a 25-yard free-kick which sparked a surge of Morton enthusiasm.
Dessers then had the ball in the Morton net but referee David Dickinson had already blown for an infringement on defender Darragh O’Connor, who minutes later cleared a shot from Matondo off the line after the pacy attacker had rounded MacDonald, who finished off the first-half with another fine save, this time from Kieran Dowell’s curling free-kick from 25 yards.
The second-half brought early drama when Dessers clashed with Broadfoot inside the Rangers box to bring penalty claims from the Morton players and fans.
Play waited for the VAR check then referee Dickinson checked his pitch-side monitor and pointed to the spot, with Gillespie sending Butland the wrong way.
The mood inside Ibrox changed and as Rangers responded Leon Balogun struck the post with a drive from close range.
There was a VAR check for a possible penalty for a Broadfoot tug on Balogun as Rangers waited to bring on Ianis Hagi, Danilo and Abdallah Sima and when Dickinson pointed to the spot, Dessers levelled with a well-taken penalty.
Danilo soon made his mark by slotting in from 14 yards after turning inside O’Connor and the pressure disappeared as the home side piled forward for more goals.
MacDonald tipped a Hagi drive over the bar before Sima headed a John Lundstram cross on to the bar with MacDonald making yet another fine save from Sima’s deflected shot as Rangers controlled the final stages which included eight minutes of added time, albeit a Yfeko challenge on George Oakley inside the Rangers box was timely.