Three Rangers midfield stars are “touch and go” in a race against time to be fit for next week’s League Cup final as preparations get underway for the Hampden showpiece.
Michael Beale revealed he had “big doubts” over the availability of Malik Tillman, Ryan Jack and John Lundstram for the game against Old Firm rivals Celtic.
With the first piece of silverware of the season on the line, both sides will be looking to have their strongest possible squad available to them.
But the trio were missing from Saturday’s win at Livingston that extends their unbeaten run under Beale to 14 games.
Tillman, who has been influential in the unbeaten run since the manager took over, has a hamstring problem, Jack has a calf injury and Lundstram is suffering from an ankle knock.
Skipper James Tavernier grabbed a double, one from the spot, before substitute Kemar Roofe added a third as the home side ended the game with 10 men after midfielder Stephane Omeonga was sent off by referee David Dickinson in the 77th minute for a second yellow card offence.
As he turned his attention towards to next weekend, Beale said: “They are big doubts because they were not available today.
“I’m optimistic they will return to training at the back end of the week, with maybe Scott Arfield, but it will be touch and go.
“What you saw today might be what we have and I was delighted with what we got today from the players.
“I have had to take a few deep breaths when other players have gone down injured this week.
“But you have to trust your next group of players. Everything I needed to see today I saw.
“We will now wrap the boys up as we have a full week to prepare for the cup final.”
Beale was happy to give 16-year-old Bailey Rice a late debut after he returned from international duty with Scotland under-17s.
He said: “He is only 16 and not often a young boy plays for Scotland in Spain on the Friday afternoon and then comes back to make his debut for Rangers on the Saturday. What a weekend for that young man.
“It is a pleasing moment for everyone who has worked with him and his family.”
Beale stated it was “clear penalty” when James Penrice grabbed the shirt of Alfredo Morelos but Livingston boss David Martindale was not convinced and neither was he enamoured with referee Dickinson’s decision to give Omeonga a second yellow for his challenge on Roofe just outside the box, from which Tavernier scored with a terrific free-kick.
He said: “I don’t think it’s a penalty, I think it’s very soft.
“I’m going to concede he had his jersey but I don’t think he pulled it. I don’t think there was any force in it. The momentum of Morelos’ body shape didn’t change.
“I think it was very harsh. There would have been 20 plus penalties being given for someone holding the opposition player’s shirt
“It happens to Joel Nouble every day of the week, all over the park, and we don’t seem to get free-kicks or penalties.
“I don’t think there’s a lot in it. I can see why the referee has to go to look at the monitor but there has to be some argument about the momentum of the force that’s used to pull the shirt. It’s debatable.”
On Omeonga’s dismissal, he said: “It’s a fantastic free-kick. But Roofe’s contact is on Stephane originally.
“I don’t think it’s a yellow card even if Steph made the first contact which I don’t think he did. I think it’s a soft yellow card.”