'Gers through in extra-time
Rangers are through to the Fifth Round of the Scottish Cup - but only after an almighty struggle against Hamilton Accies at Ibrox tonight, eventually winning 2-0 after extra-time with Steven Whittaker the unlikely two-goal hero.
For the third consecutive meeting with the Lanarkshire club Ibrox Boss Walter Smith made three changes from Saturday with Lee McCulloch, John Fleck and Kenny Miller replacing Kirk Broadfoot, Maurice Edu and the flu-hit Kyle Lafferty. Hamilton likewise showed three alterations with Grant Evans, Trent McClenahan and Flavio Paixao coming in for the suspended Richie Hastings, the ineligible David Van Zanten and Mark McLaughlin.
The Cup Holders almost struck in the opening minute when Miller raced away on a long ball from Sasa Papac only to see his shot from the edge of the box blocked by visiting goalkeeper Tomas Cerny.
Four minutes later Rangers had a stonewall penalty appeal denied by Referee Charlie Richmond when Miller was barged off the ball by Simon Mensing.
To general astonishment it had quickly become apparent that the home side were deploying a 4-5-1 formation - against Hamilton Accies…
The Light Blues maintained their early pressure - a surging Papac run in nineteen minutes producing a superb one-handed save from Cerny.
Sixty seconds later from a Nacho Novo cross Miller's header from point-blank range was blocked by Cerny.
There was a break in the one-way traffic in 25 minutes when Jamie McArthur's 25-yard drive was held by Allan McGregor.
It was soon back to the other end - two minutes later a Novo - Whittaker move down the right produced a cross from the full-back that was nodded on by Miller at the near post for Steve Davis to just head wide of the target.
Rangers came agonisingly close to opening the scoring on the half-hour mark when a McCulloch - Papac move down the left ended with a low ball across the face of goal that Miller struck against the crossbar.
Seven minutes later Cerny again kept his side on level terms when he blocked Fleck's effort from a Miller pass.
Accies briefly threatened in 39 minutes when from Mensing's corner Grant Evans' back-header was clawed away by McGregor.
There was real controversy two minutes later when the Light Blues were denied a second clear spot-kick when Whittaker was blocked by David Elebert and just to add insult to injury was yellow-carded for alleged simulation by Charlie Richmond who was having a real nightmare.
The Cup Holders ended the half still seeking the breakthrough - with Miller again striking the crossbar with a shot on the turn from a Davis pass.
The interval arrived with the scoresheet still blank - but Fleck twice came close to opening the scoring after the restart, firstly in 55 minutes when following a mazy run he saw his curling shot from the edge of the area held by Cerny, who again denied the teenager two minutes later from 22 yards.
The crowd were getting restless at the lack of goals - midway through the second-half Miller was inches wide with a shot on the turn from eighteen yards following a Novo run.
Two minutes later Elebert almost cut Novo in half as he crossed the halfway line - it should have been a straight red card, but unbelievably Richmond merely brandished a yellow. Just to rub it in, he also booked David Weir for remonstrating with the Accies player - and consequently the Ibrox Captain will miss the visit to Paisley in the next round.
The pressure was unrelenting - Danny Wilson's header from a Fleck corner in 73 minutes being cleared off the line by Elebert.
Four minutes later Miller should have done better when he was put through by Davis only to see his effort turned wide by Cerny.
Broadfoot replaced Kevin Thomson on eighty minutes with Whittaker moving forward to wide midfield.
Cerny again denied Miller four minutes later when a Novo - Broadfoot move down the right ended with a cutback that saw the striker's drive turned over.
In the dying seconds Whittaker's 25-yard drive was held by the outstanding Cerny.
Extra-time it was, and the deadlock was finally broken in 95 minutes when Miller's deflected shot from a Davis pass was prodded home by Whittaker almost under the crossbar.
Sixty seconds later it should have been two when a Miller - Davis move sliced open the Accies defence only for Novo to somehow shoot wide.
It scarcely mattered however - for that man Whittaker made it 2-0 in 98 minutes with a magnificent solo run and drive into the top corner of the net.
The full-back was going for his hat-trick - and came close six minutes later with a low twenty-yard drive following a Fleck corner that Cerny parried.
McGregor did have one final double save in 115 minutes when he blocked both Stuart Elliott and Flavio Paixao from a McArthur opening.
The tie was won - although there were further injury worries for the Ibrox men when both Novo and Miller limped off late in the game.
Afterwards a relieved Ally McCoist summed up:
"A very difficult game for us. We created one or two chances without finishing them off. We were always hopeful of getting a goal - I did feel that if we kept creating chances we would eventually take one."
Rangers make the short trip to Paisley in the next round - but they will be mightily glad to see the back of Hamilton for now.
RANGERS McGregor; Whittaker, Weir, Wilson, Papac; Novo (Little 101), Davis, McCulloch (Edu 104), Thomson (Broadfoot 80), Fleck; Miller
UNUSED SUBS Alexander, Smith
HAMILTON ACCIES Cerny; Evans (Wilkie 77), Canning, Elebert (McLaughlin 86), McClenahan; F. Paixao, McArthur, Neil, Mensing, M. Paixao (Elliott 98); Antoine-Curier
UNUSED SUBS Murdoch, Crawford
REFEREE Charlie Richmond