Livingston reluctantly relinquished their grasp on the Petrofac Training Cup last night as Nicky Clark’s strike 15 minutes from time earned Rangers a semi-final clash with St Mirren next month.
The visitors turned in a resilient display that not only caused frustration among Mark Warburton’s men, but almost all of the 17,386 in attendance.
Holders Livi grew in confidence in the second half and carved out a couple of opportunities themselves, but the home side’s efforts finally paid dividends after 75 minutes when substitute Clark wasn’t closed down and his drive from 20 yards swerved away from Lions keeper Marc McCallum and into the corner of the net.
Despite the defeat, manager Mark Burchill was pleased with the endeavours of his players against the Ibrox side.
“We almost got the maximum out of them,” the Livi boss said. “The performance levels from the guys, the work-rate, the effort, it was all there. We were missing four or five starters from our normal XI, so it was always going to be pretty tough.
“But I’m proud of the performance as they gave everything for the team and the club, so if they can show that determination in the games coming up, then we should be able to start picking up points in the league.”
Burchill made two changes to the side that lost to St Mirren at the weekend. Ross Millen replaced the injured Scott Pittman, while Jordan White was preferred to Jordyn Sheerin in attack.
The visitors appeared content to let the Championship leaders dictate play early on, Nathan Oduwa and Barrie McKay at the heart of the home side’s increasing threat down the flanks.
It took until the 15th minute, though, for Rangers to create their first clear-cut chance in front of goal. Oduwa supplied the cross after a slick move down the right and James Tavernier had his header cleared off the line by Ben Gordon.
Further efforts went abegging for both Nicky Law and Andy Halliday, but despite all their play in Livi’s half, the Championship’s bottom side were proving difficult to break down.
Jackson Longridge was then far from intimidated by Oduwa as the youngster brushed him aside before playing into the path of Liam Buchanan, whose first-time effort from 30 yards was well held by Rangers keeper Wes Foderingham.
McCallum thwarted Martyn Waghorn within a minute of the restart, before a terrific tackle by Gallagher denied the striker again a shot on goal from the edge of the six-yard box.
Livi carried a bit more belief about them and Jordan White had time to steady himself before shooting wide after Hugo Faria had broken up a Rangers counter-attack.
Law then cut through the heart of the Livi defence as the home supporters grew restless before receiving the return pass from substitute Clark, but McCallum stood up to the challenge with a timely block and Clark wasted the rebound firing over.
Law went close again with an effort from 20 yards that trickled wide of the far post before the deadlock was finally broken.
An unmarked Clark picked up pass from the far left touchline and saw his drive skim off the turf and past McCallum into the goalkeeper’s bottom left-hand corner.
Rangers: Foderingham, Tavernier, Ball, Kiernan, Wallace, Holt, Law, Halliday, McKay, Oduwa (Clark 46), Waghorn. Subs: Kelly, Aird, Hardie, Thompson, Walsh, Miller.
Livingston: McCallum, Neill, Gordon, Gallagher, Longridge, Millen (Georgiev 86), Gibbons, Faria, Glen (Currie 86), Buchanan (Sheerin 76), White. Subs: Jamieson, Duckrell.
Referee: A Dallas