better meddle...

wi' the de'il than the bairns o' fa'kirk

Match Report

Wednesday, 28th January, 2009

by Stephen Halliday

Rangers 3 Falkirk 0: Redemption for Novo as Rangers ease into final

NACHO NOVO, whose misdemeanours prevented him playing any part in Rangers' cup successes last season, will be secure in Walter Smith's good books this morning after delivering a match-winning contribution for the Ibrox club last night.

The Spanish striker made the most of an unexpected call to replace Kenny Miller in Smith's side, scoring the two first-half goals which sent Rangers on their way to the Co-operative Insurance Cup final.

It was a form of redemption for Novo, who missed Rangers' League Cup and Scottish Cup triumphs last year because of foolishly earned suspensions.

Kris Boyd, also back in favour after being dropped at the weekend, wrapped up an ultimately comfortable win against a Falkirk side whose hopes of causing an upset were betrayed by their now all-too-familiar lack of a cutting edge in the attacking third of the pitch.

Rangers will now make their 32nd League Cup final appearance when they return to Hampden on 15 March to face the winners of tonight's second semi-final between Celtic and Dundee United.

Falkirk would have felt aggrieved and startled in equal measure at the concession of Novo's early strike, for the initial exchanges had not given the slightest impression of Rangers seizing the initiative so soon.

Adopting the same tactics which had caused Rangers considerable difficulty in the SPL fixture between the sides at Ibrox ten days earlier, with Jackie McNamara returning from injury to join a five-man defence, Falkirk made a similarly bright and fluent start.

Steve Lovell, who put them ahead in the league game which Rangers eventually won 3-1, twice came close to making the breakthrough before Novo scored. The lone striker's first opportunity was created by Neil McCann's defence-splitting pass, but Lovell was unable to steer his shot beyond Allan McGregor, who spread himself to make a good blocking save.

The Rangers goalkeeper bettered that moments later when, after Kirk Broadfoot carelessly lost possession, Patrick Cregg found Lovell in space on the edge of the penalty area. The striker looked to have done everything right this time, curling a right-foot shot towards the far corner of the goal, but McGregor stretched out his left hand to touch the ball behind for a corner. Having been fortunate not to fall behind, Rangers went in front with their first attack of note. Novo, one of three changes to the starting line-up from Saturday's goalless draw at Aberdeen, forced McNamara to concede a corner which Pedro Mendes guided in from the left. Madjid Bougherra flicked the ball on to the back post where Novo forced it home from no more than four yards out.

As eager to impress as always on a rare starting appearance, Novo's energy and movement troubled the Falkirk defence which was being anchored by Steven Pressley. The Spaniard, though, was guilty of a lack of awareness when he had a shot blocked from a difficult position, with both Mendes and Boyd waiting for a pass in better positions, but he continued to be Rangers' most threatening player.

Steven Naismith, playing on the left of midfield with teenager John Fleck relegated to the subs' bench, should have converted a cross from Novo in the holders' next attack, but he failed to connect with his shot properly and Lee Bullen was able to clear off the line before Boyd latched onto the loose ball and drove an overhead kick narrowly wide.

While Rangers were now dictating the tempo of the match, Falkirk should have equalised in the 22nd minute when Cregg sent McCann clear on the right side of the penalty area. The veteran winger's shot lacked both conviction and accuracy as he drove the ball wide of a relieved McGregor's left-hand post.

There was already an overwhelming sense that this tie only had one winner and Dani Mallo, Falkirk's debutant Spanish goalkeeper, made fine saves from Mendes and Boyd to keep his team clinging to hope of a recovery.

They suffered a crushing blow five minutes before half-time, however, when Novo doubled his tally and Rangers' advantage. Latching onto a terrific through ball from Steven Davis, the forward burst into the Falkirk penalty area and drove a precise right-foot shot across Mallo and into the corner of the net. The only likely route back into the match for Falkirk now was complacency on the part of Rangers, which Kirk Broadfoot duly indulged in at the start of the second half. The defender casually allowed himself to be dispossessed by McCann who crossed from the left for Kevin McBride to drive in a shot which was deflected wide for a corner.

When Rangers failed to clear McCann's subsequent set-piece, the ball broke to Bullen whose looping header looked set to sneak under the crossbar until the back-pedalling McGregor flicked out a glove to touch it over. McCann produced another good deliver from the corner, this time finding Scott Arfield, who volleyed narrowly over from an awkward angle.

It was a reminder to Rangers that there was still work left for them to do in order to complete their passage to the final and they responded by stepping up their pursuit of a third goal which would put the issue beyond any reasonable doubt.

Davis came agonisingly close to grabbing it with what would have been one of the finest individual goals of the season. Picking the ball up just inside the Falkirk half, the Northern Ireland international midfielder set off on a weaving run which took him past four challenges before his low shot from the edge of the penalty area was deflected narrowly wide of Mallo's right-hand post.

Boyd had cut a subdued figure for much of proceedings, but that never makes him any less likely to get on the scoresheet. He came close to doing so when, picked out by Novo, his shot bounced into the turf and on to the top of the crossbar.

To no-one's great surprise, Boyd did find the net with the simplest of goals two minutes from time.