- Rangers fail to score for first time in 32 games this season
- Former Gers skipper McCulloch in interim charge of Killie for first time
- Championship side dominant against Premiership strugglers
- Both sides in Monday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final draw
RANGERS failed to score for the first time this season as Lee McCulloch earned a Scottish Cup fifth-round replay on his Ibrox return.
The Championship leaders created a host of opportunities as James Tavernier hit the post in the first half and Danny Wilson headed against the crossbar after the break.
Lee Wallace and Andy Halliday were also denied by visiting keeper Jamie MacDonald but the Gers could not secure an eighth successive win in all competitions.
Premiership strugglers Kilmarnock – under interim boss McCulloch for the first time – withstood large swathes of pressure and survived the late dismissal of substitute Kallum Higginbotham for a high challenge on Tavernier.
Ex-Gers captain McCulloch – in temporary charge after Gary Locke resigned last weekend – was “delighted” and “proud” of his side’s resilience to earn only a fourth clean sheet of the season after back-to-back defeats by Hamilton and Dundee United which had “damaged confidence”.
Mark Warburton’s men, however, could not beat top-flight opponents for the second time this term following their 3-1 League Cup defeat against St Johnstone in November.
Rangers swept aside Killie 3-0 to reach this stage of the competition last season but found the East Ayrshire outfit a more difficult obstacle this time around.
McCulloch made five changes from the 1-0 reverse against Hamilton which left Killie second-bottom in the top-flight, handing debuts to deadline day signings Gary Dicker and Lee Hodson.
Amid a frenetic opening at both ends, Killie’s 10-goal top scorer Josh Magennis nodded Greg Kiltie’s cross narrowly wide.
Inevitably, Rangers full-backs Tavernier and Wallace – with 17 goals between them this season – were in menacing mood going forward and both came close in the early exchanges.
MacDonald parried Wallace’s fierce shot after a clever slide-rule pass from Barrie McKay before Tavernier’s stinging drive from 18 yards rebounded off the right-hand post minutes later.
The unchanged hosts saw the lion’s share of possession but Killie waited to pounce on unforced errors – Tope Obadeyi’s effort from distance tested Wes Foderingham following a quick break.
Craig Slater could have put the visitors ahead close to half-time after checking inside as keeper Foderingham stood tall to block the shot with his head.
Rangers were previously the only Scottish team to notch in every match this season, yet they were continually frustrated by a much-changed Killie backline and their own end product.
Halliday – the match-winner at Raith Rovers in midweek – looked to have found the bottom corner with a curling shot before MacDonald’s last-gasp intervention.
Seeking some additional guile from midfield, Warburton introduced Harry Forrester and the fit-again Jason Holt on the hour in place of Championship player of the month Kenny Miller and the disappointing Gedion Zelalem.
Former Killie loanee Forrester almost made an instant impact, sending a low daisycutter past the post after picking up a loose ball on the edge of the box.
With Rangers the only team offering a second-half threat, a Tavernier free-kick drifted inches wide before Wilson looped a header from Forrester’s corner on to the woodwork from six yards.
Martyn Waghorn looked certain to score but couldn’t bring McKay’s pass under his spell when free in the box as the groans around the stadium grew in volume.
Killie ended the game a man light after referee Bobby Madden gave Higginbotham his marching orders with 90 seconds of normal time remaining for a lunge on Tavernier near the touchline.
The visitors desperately threw their bodies on the line – quite literally in the case of Magennis to get in the way of Waghorn’s shot.
But despite their best efforts, Rangers could not find a breakthrough and face a tricky test on the artificial pitch at Rugby Park on February 16.
Although talks have opened with Billy Davies and Lee Clark over the managerial vacancy, McCulloch did his case of keeping the job no harm at all and could still be in charge for the replay a week on Tuesday.
Substitutes: Forrester (on for Miller 60′), Holt (on for Zelalem 61′) and Law (on for Kiernan 74′).
Not used: Bell (GK), Thompson, Shiels, Clark.
Booked: Holt (68′)
Substitutes: O’Hara (on for Dicker 65′) and Higginbotham (on for Obadeyi 74′).
Not used: Brennan (GK), Ashcroft, Frizzell, Hamill, Boyd.
Booked: Smith (29′), Slater (73′)
Sent-off: Higginbotham (89′)
Referee: Bobby Madden (Scotland) – 8/10
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