Last updated : 22 February 2003 By Grandmaster Suck

Attendance 9,608

Rangers are through to the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup – but only after a tight, tense struggle at Somerset Park this afternoon, where a late Ronald De Boer goal decided the outcome. When Rangers last visited Somerset Park on Scottish Cup business in 1993, they were en route to a Treble success under Walter Smith. Whether such a triumph will be the outcome to this season remains to be seen, but one player in the ranks of the home side who must have recalled that campaign with more than a hint of nostalgia was Neil Murray, who of course scored in the 1993 Scottish Cup Final win over Aberdeen.

Rangers made two changes from the starting line-up against Hearts last weekend with Neil McCann and Shota Arveladze replacing flu-victim Fernando Ricksen and Michael Mols.

Glorious sunshine and a tight ground packed to capacity greeted the SPL leaders – and Jamie Grady (no friend of Rangers) wasted no time in making his presence felt, committing fouls on both Lorenzo Amoruso and Bob Malcolm inside the opening five minutes, obliging Referee Alan Freeland to speak to him.

Rangers suffered an injury blow in twenty minutes with the enforced substitution of Mikel Arteta, being replaced by Stephen Hughes.

It took the Ibrox men some time to find their touch as their First Division opponents hustled and harried them at every opportunity, but in 24 minutes Shota

Arveladze came close to opening the scoring when he struck the crossbar from the edge of the box with a left-foot volley from a Ronald De Boer pass.

Rangers had now found their bearings – twice in as many minutes Hughes tested Craig Nelson with long-range efforts from De Boer passes, and then the Ayr goalkeeper was again equal to the task when he held Barry Ferguson’s left-foot effort from a Bob Malcolm slip.

The pressure was all one-way, but the home defence was holding firm. Nelson was again equal to the task when he denied De Boer’s right-foot drive from the edge of the penalty area in forty minutes.

For perhaps the first time in the game Rangers got behind the Ayr defence right on the 45-minute mark when a Malcolm – Muscat move down the right enabled the Australian Internationalist to find Arveladze with a low cross only for the Georgian to shoot wide.

Somerset Park has never been a happy-hunting ground for the Light Blues over the years, and when the first-half ended goalless it was clear that this cup-tie was never going to be a formality.

No doubt with their ears still ringing with some choice words from Manager Alex McLeish, Rangers restarted on the offensive – Stephen Hughes almost breaking the deadlock six minutes in when his shot from a Muscat pass was just too high.

Craig Nelson had been outstanding in the Somerset goal – never more so than when he turned wide Arveladze’s first-time effort after a De Boer – Muscat move down the right had carved open his defence in 54 minutes.

Stefan Klos had been very much an onlooker for most of the game – but he had to be alert three minutes later when he held a Chaplain shot.

The lack of penetration that has plagued Rangers for much of this campaign was now returning to haunt them, never more so than on the hour when an Arveladze – McCann move down the left sliced open the opposition, a low cross being met by Hughes whose goal-bound drive was somehow blocked.

The first yellow-card of the afternoon was shown to Arthur Numan shortly afterwards for dissent following a Grady challenge on Klos.

Numan almost produced the perfect response just two minutes later when his 25-yard left-foot drive from a Barry Ferguson opening was fisted over by Nelson.

The clock was ticking on, and tension was increasing both on and off the park with the growing realisation that for all Rangers’ pressure the scoreline was still blank. Indeed Ayr substitute Stewart Kean might have done better when he fastened on to a Grady knock-on only for Klos to be equal to the task.

One breakaway might produce a Cup sensation of seismic proportions – but the goal when it arrived with just eleven minutes remaining came from the best man on the park – Ronald De Boer’s header from substitute Steven Thompson’s cross finding the corner of the net.

Another substitute – Claudio Caniggia – might have sealed the tie three minutes later when his volley from a Muscat free-kick was inches wide.

Jamie Grady was at last yellow-carded – 82 minutes too late – for a kick at Amoruso, but there was almost a late twist in the tale when a long hanging cross from Paul Lovering was left by Amoruso, unaware of Kean’s presence behind him. The substitute tried to scoop the ball over the advancing Klos, but succeeded only in lifting it into his arms.

It was sheer carelessness on the part of the Italian defender – and Stephen Hughes did likewise in the final minute when his passback was short, allowing Grady to beat Amoruso to the ball only to shoot over.

The final whistle brought relief to all in Light Blue ranks – and a place in the last eight.

Manager Alex McLeish contented himself with just a few words:

"Ayr caused us problems, but we had a lot of chances. The goal had a touch of quality about it. I was far from happy with the casual play at the end."

AYR UNITED Nelson; Lyle, Lovering; McManus, Campbell, Craig; Chaplain, Smyth, Whalen (Kean 73), Grady, Murray

UNUSED SUBS Dunlop, Nicolson, Latta, Dodds

RANGERS Klos; Muscat, Moore, Amoruso, Numan; Arteta (Hughes 20), Malcolm (Thompson 62), Ferguson, McCann (Caniggia 73); De Boer, Arveladze

UNUSED SUBS McGregor, Bonnissel

REFEREE Alan Freeland