Today’s Scottish Cup Quarter Final tie between Rangers and visiting Dundee had been billed as yet another episode in the soap opera that is Rangers versus the Premiership.
The Dee came into this one in rampant form, with only one goal conceded in the past six matches and no losses since succumbing at Pittodrie late January. Their star striker, Kane Hemmings, is third-top scorer in the Premiership, and they sit pretty themselves near the summit, with a comfortable fifth place to boast of.
This was easily the toughest match Warburton’s Rangers had faced since the Magic Hat had taken over at Ibrox last July and was the most valid test yet of his progress, going, as it looks, into his maiden top-flight season next year in Scotland’s Premier Division.
And 4-0 later and a 90 minute stroll complete, Rangers could not have made a bigger statement of intent if they had tried.
From 13 seconds and Harry Forrester’s stunning solo opening sizzler, to Andy Halliday’s grass-cutting free kick, Rangers strutted around the Govan turf like they owned it – and they did own it.
Dundee had absolutely no answer to Rangers’ fire, intensity, pressing, swift one-twos, fierce overlapping runs and sharp short acute passing which left McGinn and co breathless.
This was, by miles, Rangers’ best display and result under Mark Warburton, with every player providing a compelling case for inclusion as part of the Premiership campaign next season.
In defence Kiernan and Wilson, especially the latter who was outstanding, repelled almost every Dundee attack with ease and assuredness– and even then, Kiernan was only notably beaten once by the otherwise misfiring Kane Hemmings.
Wilson showed that, at a higher level, with his concentration on full, he is every inch capable – he had easily his best match in a Rangers jersey on his second spell at Ibrox, and looked a totally different player to the slightly lazy, positionally suspect and generally languid figure he has often cut this season.
The wingbacks were torrid – Wallace and Tavernier decimated Dundee’s backline, and Tav especially had his best match in some time. Caught out of position only one significant moment, he otherwise tore holes in the Dee backline, while his running mate got in on the scoring with a fantastic run and finish.
Midfield too was succinct – Holt was energetic, bustling, and drew countless fouls – Dundee just could not deal with him, while behind him Ball quietly mopped up all the stray moments that could have developed for the visitors. Halliday had a difficult first half, with some loose possession and bad positioning, but he improved significantly after the interval and his free kick was another vital component of a great afternoon.
Up front; what can you say about McKay, Miller and Forrester? They were on fire – Miller linked up with both to provide countless central movements, while Forrester relentlessly went at the backline and was a handful they could not cope with. McKay though, was sublime – this kid just gets better and better, and his impossible ball retention at the byline then touchline sequence in the second half summed up his commitment, quality and persistence. He is a gem, put simply.
A word on Dundee – they stank, but a major cause of this was Rangers did not let them do anything else. From the first second the hosts were intense, oppressive, claustrophobic and their guests were blown away by it. The occasion was too much and Rangers’ destroyed them with it.
Rangers now go into the semifinals draw of the Scottish Cup fearing no one. This match was a gigantic litmus test, and a huge barometer of progress. Rangers have absolutely obliterated a Dundee side who got a very decent draw at Parkhead recently – and now look like a Rangers team quite at home at that level.
The future is most definitely bright for the red, blue and white.