Rangers kept their hopes of a four trophy bonanza alive here on Sunday but only just as they scraped through to the Scottish Cup Final with a penalty shoot-out win against First Division St Johnstone at Hampden.
After a goalless 90 minutes the Perth side had opened the scoring at the start of extra time through substitute Daniel McBreen.
However, Spanish forward Nacho Novo levelled from the penalty spot in the first period of the 30 additional minutes.
And, with penalty kicks being required to separate the sides, Gabon international Daniel Cousin scored the decisive one to win the shoot-out 4-3 and book Rangers’ place in the final on May 24 against First Division side Queen of the South.
With Rangers facing a congested fixture list, as they look to add the Scottish Premier League, Scottish Cup and UEFA Cup to their League Cup trophy, they had made eight changes to the side which lost to Celtic in the SPL on Wednesday.
Three of these were enforced with goalkeeper Allan McGregor and midfielder Lee McCulloch injured and defender David Weir suspended.
Rangers’ injury woes worsened when both Chris Burke and Steven Naismith were forced off with serious looking injuries in the ninth and 21st minutes – to be replaced by Belgian Thomas Buffel and Steven Davis respectively.
Despite these blows Rangers did most of the attacking in the first half.
Buffel had the ball in the net in the 27th minute with an emphatic finish from eight-yards but the assistant referee correctly flagged for offside.
In the 33rd minute Novo raced onto a slack pass-back from Macedonian Goran Stanic but the Spanish forward wastefully sliced his shot wide.
Two minutes later Stanic made amends when he cleared Davis’ lob over St Johnstone goalkeeper Alan Main.
At the start of the second half Novo’s header was kept out by a fine fingertip save from Main.
St Johnstone could have taken the lead in the 53rd minute.
Martin Hardie nodded a deep cross back across goal and from the penalty spot Steven Milne failed to test Rangers’ stand-in goalkeeper Neil Alexander, blasting wildly over the crossbar.
And in the 62nd minute Milne forced Alexander into his first meaningful action of the game with a backheel, from Liam Craig’s free-kick, which required the goalkeeper to save low to his left.
The game was now evenly balanced and Main needed to be sharp off his line to save at the feet of Steven Whittaker who had made a good run through the centre of the Saints’ defence.
St Johnstone required two goalline clearances in the closing minutes to take the game into extra time.
First Craig blocked Davis’ header off the line in the 88th minute and two minutes later Jody Morris made an acrobatic clearance from Cousin’s looping header.
In the fourth minute of extra time St Johnstone stunned the Glasgow giants by taking the lead.
Paul Sheerin’s deep cross found fellow substitute McBreen, who had replaced Peter MacDonald in the 80th minute, and he sent a downward headed beyond Alexander.
Rangers, though, were level in the 103rd minute after Cousin had been pulled down in the box by Saints’ defender Gary Irvine.
Referee Dougie McDonald awarded the spot-kick and Novo rifled the ball low into the corner of the net.
The Ibrox side dominated the rest of extra time and with three minutes remaining were denied a winner by the woodwork when Novo’s shot on the turn hit the post.
In the penalty shoot-out St Johnstone’s Sheerin, Craig and Andy Jackson all scored while Milne and Morris had their efforts saved.
Davis, Whittaker, Novo and Cousin all scored from the spot for Rangers, with only Brahim Hemdani missing, to book the Ibrox side’s final place.
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