St Johnstone 1 Rangers 1: Cousin keeps Rangers fighting on all fronts

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The Independent Online

No team with ambitions of a Quadruple can expect to sail smoothly through an entire campaign, and as surely as yesterday's warm spring afternoon in Glasgow turned icy in minutes, a metaphorical force-10 gale bore down on Rangers' multiple trophy hopes.

They weathered the leading gusts yesterday – just – to emerge triumphant after 120 minutes and penalties from this Scottish Cup semi-final against lower division opposition.

Daniel McBreen's extra-time opener for St Johnstone was only cancelled out in the 103rd minute by Nacho Novo. Daniel Cousin eventually converted the winning shootout kick after Rangers' stand-in goalkeeper Neil Alexander had saved from two Saints, including Jody Morris, once of Chelsea and Leeds.

This was Rangers' second win on penalties at Hampden Park this season, after success against Dundee United in the CIS Cup in March.

But the casualties are mounting. The week ahead will test the depth of Walter Smith's squad, and the mettle of his players, to the limits. Before kick-off, Smith was already without his No1 keeper, Allan McGregor, and experienced midfielder Lee McCulloch, both injured in last week's Old Firm defeat to Celtic and out for weeks at least. Also missing was David Weir, suspended after being sent off at Parkhead.

Yesterday, within 20 minutes of kick off, both Rangers wingers, Chris Burke and Steven Naismith, were removed on stretchers, with ankle and knee injuries respectively. With a Uefa Cup semi-final home leg against Fiorentina on Thursday, followed by another Scottish Premier League Glasgow derby, away, on Sunday and then followed by Fiorentina away, the next 10 days could define or ruin Rangers' season.

Trials such as these will be watched with relish by fans of Celtic, who took advantage of Rangers' Cup duty by beating Aberdeen 1-0 in the league on Saturday. That took Gordon Strachan's side to the top of the SPL for the first time this year, by two points, although Rangers now have three games in hand. Smith had always warned that tests would arrive for his side.

"It was not the best of days for us in overall performance," said Smith last night. "St Johnstone made it hard for us but we also struggled at times. I'm delighted and relieved with the result."

The win earns Rangers a final against Queen of the South – another First Division team – back here on 24 May. By then they will already know their fate in the Uefa Cup and the SPL. "We've got a number of injuries catching up with us," said Smith.

In wind that blustered more as the day wore on, and on a pitch Smith described as "in shocking condition for a national stadium", St Johnstone took the game to Rangers from the off. Liam Craig's early shot was carried wide by a gust, then Peter MacDonald's effort was held by Alexander.

Burke was felled in the sixth minute by Kevin Rutkiewicz, and gone by the 11th, replaced by Thomas Buffel. Naismith took a knock in the 15th minute, then collapsed after getting his foot stuck three minutes later. Steven Davis replaced him.

Kevin Thomson's chip was then carried wider than it was already heading. Buffel netted but was ruled offside. St Johnstone goalkeeper Alan Main then saved from Cousin and Novo, and Davis blasted over. Second-half chances fell to Saints' Steven Milne and Paul Sherrin, while Main blocked or saved from Novo, Cousin and Buffel, and a Davis header was cleared off the line.

McBreen gave Saints the lead with a diving header from Sheerin's cross, then Cousin was tripped for a penalty, slammed in by Novo. Viewers on BBC Scotland were then advised: "Songs of Praise will be shown at 6.30pm."

It was closer to 5.30pm when the lusty celebratory singing began in the Rangers end of a half-full Hampden. Alexander's save from Morris at 3-3 in the shootout allowed Cousin to wrap things up, and leave Rangers' dreams, for all the listing, still afloat.

Goals: McBreen (94) 1-0; Novo pen (103) 1-1.

St Johnstone (4-4-2): Main; Irvine, McManus, Rutkiewicz, Stanic (Anderson, 91); Hardie (Sheerin, 70), MacDonald (McBreen, 80), Morris, Craig; Milne, Jackson. Substitutes not used: Cuthbert (gk), James.

Rangers (4-4-2): Alexander; Whittaker, Cuellar, Dailly, S Smith (Broadfoot, 91); Burke (Buffel, 11) , Hemdani, Thomson, Naismith (Davis, 20); Novo, Cousin. Substitutes not used: G Smith (gk), Broadfoot, McMillan.

Referee: D McDonald (Scotland).

Booked: Rangers Dailly.

Man of the match: Novo.

Attendance: 26,180.

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