RANGERS marched into the semi-finals of the Ramsdens Cup as goals from Bilel Mohsni, Jon Daly and Lee McCulloch gave them a workmanlike 3-0 win at Queen of the South.
It was a game in which the Ibrox men had to hang in for long spells, bide their time and wait to strike.
But at the conclusion of a professional performance at Palmerston Park, they deserved their victory and their place in the last four of the lower-league event.
They’ll find out who they’ll meet at that stage of the competition on Thursday when the draw takes place at Hampden with Annan, Raith and Stenhousemuir in the hat.
Whoever they are paired with, they’ll be a daunting proposition having extended their winning run in all competitions to seven games in Dumfries.
Ally McCoist made three changes to his side from Saturday’s 5-1 win over Arbroath, one of them enforced due to Lewis Macleod missing the game with a knee injury.
Nicky Clark and Sebastien Faure dropped to the bench, with Robbie Crawford and Richard Foster two of the players coming in.
The other was Lee Wallace, who passed a morning fitness test to take his place at left-back having missed out at the weekend due to a hip problem picked up on international duty.
Rangers travelled down the M74 looking to make up for their exit from this competition at the same stage a year ago to the same opponents.
And they started the game in the right manner as they went in front with just over seven minutes on the clock.
Mohsni was the scorer as he forced home on the line after Arnold Peralta’s left-wing corner had been headed back across goal by McCulloch.
The chances are the ball was already going in but the defender made sure with an emphatic finish and it was the ideal way to get things underway for the visitors.
It’s perhaps just as well McCoist’s men went in front as early because much of the rest of the first period was spent absorbing pressure from the home side.
Queens didn’t let their deficit affect them and they played with a high tempo, pressing and pushing forward whenever they could.
On a surface with more spring in it than most artificial pitches Gers have encountered up until now, the Doonhamers used that to their advantage whenever possible.
Ally McCoist had highlighted Derek Lyle as a threat before the game and he pulled one shot wide from 30 yards then scooped another over as team-mate Ryan McGuffie got in his way.
In response, Peralta’s rising 30-yard drive was tipped away and a stunning Daly volley from Wallace’s hanging cross arced just over when going would have been sensational.
Jim McIntyre’s side hit back and having made an impression at one end, Mohsni was soon involved in two debatable moments at the other.
First he got in the way of Lyle to block him when Cammy Bell’s heavy touch from a McCulloch passback had been pounced upon by Michael Paton.
Dumfries fans were adamant the French Tunisian had intercepted with his hand but referee Calum Murray ruled he’d done so with his chest instead.
It was a let off for Mohsni and seconds later he breathed a sigh of relief again as the ball appeared to strike his arm in the penalty area and nothing was given.
Undeterred, Queens were positive as they sought a leveller and Bell did well to hold a strong Lyle header while Iain Russell fired across goal and wide.
The Light Blues looked dangerous on the break and they had opportunities to go into the break two goals ahead.
A raking Crawford attempt flew a yard too high and Nicky Law bent a shot just around the far post after doing well to chase down a loose ball.
As it was, there remained only one goal between the sides at the midway point and anything more than that would have been harsh on the hosts.
McIntyre’s Championship outfit will have been content enough with that and his players went close again in a new wave of pressure just after the restart.
Ian McShane’s shot across the face of the target had plenty of venom but sadly for him not enough direction as it flashed away for a goal kick.
Andy Little eventually mustered something in return on the hour with a shot which was deflected behind for a corner and that was ultimately wasted.
The game hung in the balance, with Queens going about their business with purpose and Rangers being resolute at the back and dealing with most of what was thrown at them.
Now into the final third of the game, it was clear the next goal would have a huge bearing in which way the contest would swing.
And the locals began to sense their team might be the one to get it as Gers began inviting pressure on themselves.
But things took a considerable turn for the worse instead for the Doonhamers when Chris Higgins, already on a booking, was sent off for bringing down Stevie Smith.
From the resulting free kick, Law delivered sweetly for Daly and his bullet header soared into the net to all but assure his side of its place in the last four.
The goal was a sucker punch for the Palmerston team, which had put so much into a compelling fixture.
By the same token, it was one Gers will feel they merited for digging in, scrapping hard and hitting their opponents when they least expected it.
Suddenly armed with a two-goal cushion, the away side began displaying a little more confidence on what had been an edgy night to that point.
They were even afforded the luxury of bringing on the home team’s top scorer from last season, Nicky Clark, who was welcomed with both applause and derision from his old fans.
The Light Blues looked to add gloss to the scoreline, with Law’s deflected shot tipped over before McCulloch added a finishing touch to Crawford’s corner with a fine header.
That gave him his eighth goal of the season to cement his place as the squad’s top scorer and with it that spot in Thursday’s draw was assured.
QUEEN OF THE SOUTH: Antell, McGuffie, Holt, McShane (Reilly 69), Dowie, Higgins, McKenna (Dzierzawski 58), Young, Lyle, Paton, Russell.
SUBS NOT USED: Atkinson, Carmichael, Mitchell.
SENT OFF: Higgins.
RANGERS: Bell; Foster, McCulloch, Mohsni, Wallace (Templeton 85); Crawford, Peralta (Faure 68), Law, S Smith; Little (Clark 80), Daly.
SUBS NOT USED: Simonsen, McKay.
SCORERS: Mohsni 8, Daly 75, McCulloch 83.
BOOKINGS: Peralta, Mohsni.
REFEREE: Calum Murray.
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