Oscar Cortes shone in his first Rangers start as the Light Blues made their way into the quarter-finals of the Scottish Gas Scottish Cup with a 2-0 win over Ayr at Ibrox.
The 20-year-old Colombian winger, on loan from French side Lens with an option for the Rangers to buy, had a couple of efforts on goal before he set up Borna Barisic’s low drive, which deflected in off Somerset Park midfielder Roy Syla after only 10 minutes.
However, Cortes departed after an hour with the Govan side struggling to see off the Championship side, managed by former Celtic captain Scott Brown, before on-loan Wolves striker Fabio Silva added a second in the 76th minute.
It was far from Rangers’ best performance of the season, but Gers boss Philippe Clement, who has already won the Viaplay Cup while hauling his side back into the cinch Premiership title race, will look forward to the next round.
Clement took the opportunity against the lower league side to make seven changes to his side.
Mohamed Diomande, the Ivorian midfielder signed from Nordsaelland, and Cortes were both handed their first starts with Barisic, Scott Wright, Ryan Jack, Nicolas Raskin and Silva also coming into the Rangers starting XI.
The visitors were backed by a good travelling support, who watched Cortes clip the outside of the post with a curling 20-yard drive in the second minute and had another effort saved by United goalkeeper Robbie Mutch.
Cortes was at the heart of much of Rangers’ early work and when he cut the ball back for Barisic, the left-back’s drive from 14 yards took a nick off former Albania Under-21 international midfielder Syla and wrong-footed Mutch.
Rangers dominated but after Connor Goldson lost possession, fellow Gers defender John Souttar’s saving challenge on Anton Dowds denied the Ayr attacker a shot on goal in the consequent break.
The visitors began to edge forward with growing belief, but just before the half-hour mark, Silva should have done better with a Barisic cross than heading wide from eight yards.
The lively Cortes screwed a shot just wide of the far post and a Barisic volley from a swirling Wright cross came off United’s George Stanger and keeper Mutch had to react quickly to save.
The Honest Men’s Ben Dempsey missed the target early on with an effort which should have at least been on target.
Portuguese striker Silva, booked in the first half for a foul on Nick McAllister, was perhaps lucky to escape further punishment when he appeared to leave his foot in on a tackle on Stanger and eyes went on referee Willie Collum.
Clement had on Friday backed Collum, despite Rangers reportedly asking the Scottish Football Association not to appoint the official to any of their games going forward after his part as the VAR officials in a contentious non-penalty decision which went against the Light Blues in their Old Firm derby defeat at the end of the year.
Collum took no action against Silva and United boss Brown vented at fourth official Craig Napier, and he soon saw yellow himself to the cheers of the home fans.
Clement brought on Todd Cantwell, Ridvan Yilmaz and Rabbi Matondo for Diomande, Barisic and Cortes just after the hour mark.
However, Silva ended any hopes of a shock when he fired in from 12 yards after Cantwell’s chip rebounded off the post, with VAR confirming the ball had not come off the arm of Matondo before it hit woodwork.
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