Whittaker brace sees Rangers through

Rangers 2 Hamilton 0 (after extra-time)

Rangers 2 Hamilton 0 (after extra-time)

A Steven Whittaker double in extra-time saw Rangers book their place in the fifth round of the Active Nation Scottish Cup after Hamilton once again proved to be tricky opponents.

This was the third meeting in 10 days between the two clubs, with the Accies earning a 3-3 draw at the first time of asking and then losing narrowly to Walter Smith’s men in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League at the weekend.

They once again frustrated the holders and forced the replay to extra-time, but two goals in four minutes from Whittaker ensured Rangers progressed to a meeting with St Mirren in the next round.

Rangers were boosted by the return of Kenny Miller and Lee McCulloch from suspension for the clash at Ibrox, with Miller supported up front by John Fleck and Nacho Novo on the flanks.

Hamilton introduced Trent McClenahan, Grant Evans and Flavio Paixao to the starting line-up following their 1-0 defeat at the weekend.

Rangers immediately set about trying to put Hamilton under pressure when Miller raced onto a lovely ball from Danny Wilson and stung the palms of Tomas Cerny with a blistering shot early on.

The home side continued to press and Miller went to ground in the box claiming he had been fouled by Simon Mensing, but no penalty award was forthcoming from referee Charlie Richmond.

The opener almost came from an unlikely source when Sasa Papac embarked upon an impressive mazy run past several Accies players before forcing a decent save from Cerny with an angled drive.

Rangers were still creating the best of the chances and a cross from the right from Whittaker was nodded on by Miller for Steven Davis, but he bulleted his own header wide.

Only the woodwork prevented Miller from finding the back of the net when he ran on to a Papac pass and saw his shot at full stretch crash off the crossbar.

Whittaker then picked up the first booking of the game for diving after going to ground under pressure from David Elebert just before the break, before Miller again struck the crossbar.

Accies made it more difficult for Rangers after the restart but Fleck could have claimed the advantage with a swerving shot that looked destined for the top corner, only to be blocked by Cerny.

The Hamilton goalkeeper then dived low to smother from McCulloch but the shot lacked any power as the holders battled desperately for the opener.

Last-gasp defending from Hamilton kept them in the tie, with Danny Wilson’s close-range header cleared off the line by Elebert.

Novo then had the chance to repeat his late winner from Saturday when he raced on to Fleck’s pass but took too long to unleash the shot and Mensing was able to close him down and block.

Cerny had been on fine form for Hamilton and he came to the rescue again, this time denying Miller at the near post after the striker was released by Davis. The keeper then clawed another Miller effort to safety, to groans from the home fans.

A combination of poor finishing and staunch defending ensured the tie finished goalless after 90 minutes and went into extra-time.

Accies could have snatched a goal in the opening minute when Mickael Antoine-Curier whipped a teasing ball to the feet of substitute Kyle Wilkie, but his poor effort rippled the side netting.

The breakthrough finally came after 95 minutes when Miller squeezed between two defenders and flighted the ball over Cerny – who got a touch on it – and Whittaker was waiting to bundle home from almost on the goal-line.

Whittaker then grabbed his second of the night just four minutes later, this time collecting a Fleck pass before lofting over the Accies goalkeeper and into the top corner.

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