RANGERS’ run in this season’s Carabao Cup ended after a controversial penalty shootout defeat to Sunderland on Tuesday night.
There was nothing to separate the sides during 90 minutes, although Charlie Austin’s late header looked to have made the breakthrough only for a belated offside flag to curtail the R's celebrations.
Instead, it was the Black Cats who progressed to the quarter finals – prevailing 3-1 on penalties.
Mark Warburton made no fewer than six changes from Saturday’s trip to Peterborough. Osman Kakay, Jordy de Wijs and Moses Odubajo were restored to a five-man defence whilst Luke Amos made his first start since making his long-awaited comeback from injury in central midfield.
Further in front Chris Willock returned to the starting XI as well as Andre Gray, who partnered Lyndon Dykes in attack.
But it was the visitors who made the brighter start. Lynden Gooch created the first chance inside four minutes, threading a ball through to Leon Dajaku whose low effort was repelled by Seny Dieng at his near post.
Dieng was called upon again on the 10-minute mark. Dan Neil sauntered his way to the edge of the box before shooting, forcing the R’s number one into an important stop low down to the goalkeeper’s right.
Rangers soon got going and tested Dieng’s opposite number just before the quarter-hour mark. A well-worked free-kick eventually sat up nicely for Yoann Barbet, whose well-struck drive from 20 yards was matched by Lee Burge’s one-handed save.
After a frenetic opening, goalmouth action dried up somewhat thereafter but Rangers grew into the half as it wore on and ended it strongly.
Ilias Chair had the first of three opportunities before the break, but could only place the ball wide of the right-hand post from Kakay’s pull-back, moments before Dykes toe-poked wide under pressure from Gray’s pass.
The R’s front pair combined again in the final minute of the 45 but, after Dykes this time turned provider, Gray was denied by Burge.
Just as they did in the first, Sunderland started the second half the stronger. A speculative shot from Gooch which sailed harmlessly high and wide was about the best they could muster, though.
Warburton sought to regain the initiative by making a change with an hour gone, freshening up the R’s fire power by replacing Gray with Austin.
It almost paid immediate dividends when Kakay sent a cross Austin’s way, but the striker couldn’t quite keep his rasping volley down.
At the other end, Rangers breathed a sigh of relief when a pair of Sunderland players somehow failed to get a touch to substitute Aiden McGeady’s tantalising centre from a couple of yards out.
With 10 to go, Rangers thought they’d finally made the breakthrough only to be controversially denied. Albert Adomah – introduced in the 72nd minute alongside Andre Dozzell – saw a close-range shot palmed into the path of Austin who made no mistake. However, after what seemed an age, an offside flag halted the R’s celebrations in front of the Loft.
Insult was almost added to injury when Sunderland came close deep into stoppage time. Dieng was alert once more to get a strong hand to McGeady’s low goal-bound strike.
It would prove the final chance of note as the final whistle meant this one, like our earlier wins over Leyton Orient and Everton, would be decided by penalties.
There was to be no happy ending on this occasion, however. Dykes was successful but misses from Austin, Chair and Yoann Barbet saw Sunderland prevail 3-1 in the shootout.