Alex Lowry may only be 18, but he already understands the importance of seizing your opportunity on a night such as this.
There might have been a little twinge disappointment inside the highly-rated young midfielder when his name was absent from Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s starting line-up, given the Ibrox boss had spoken glowingly of his ‘big talent’ the day before.
If so, it didn’t linger. Ianis Hagi’s early injury was the signal for Lowry to warm up. With 15 minutes on the clock, he was on the pitch.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst saw his Rangers side progress to the fifth round of the Scottish Cup
After 31 minutes, he was on the scoresheet. Zero time was wasted in making a very positive first impression.
A slender, elegant playmaker, Lowry’s senior debut wasn’t just marked by the composure of the finish that set Rangers on their way to the Scottish Cup fifth round. It was also coloured by the touch, movement and intelligence he exhibited.
True, the opposition sit sixth in League Two. Hence why a host of regulars were given the night off. But there was more than enough in this academy kid’s display to see why he has caught the eye of Van Bronckhorst and assistant Dave Vos.
Lowry more regularly shines for the Rangers B team in the Lowland League. Certainly, that pathway looks to have benefited his development. There was no apprehension shown when stepping up a level.
The Dutchman gave teenagers Alex Lowry and Leon King their senior debuts
He was joined in the second half by another 18-year-old, Leon King. The defender, who recently signed a new contract with Rangers, had previously been given a substitute debut in the League Cup last season. As with Lowry, the hope of him following in the footsteps of Nathan Patterson by developing into a valuable, homegrown talent.
These two prospects added a youthful flavour to proceedings. Near the opposite end of the experience spectrum, Ibrox captain James Tavernier doubled the first-lead lead from the penalty spot – taking him to 70 goals for the club – before failing with a second attempt from 12 yards just a few minutes later.
Cedric Itten missed a snip before the break but got himself involved in the scoring early in the second half. That will provide a little confidence boost for the Swiss forward, whose importance may soon rise. With Alfredo Morelos on Colombia duty, and Kemar Roofe waiting to learn if he will be called up by Jamaica, Itten could end up leading the line in the Old Firm showdown at Celtic Park on February 2. Fashion Sakala also staked his claim by adding a fourth late on.
For Stirling, there would be no repeat of their famous 2012 success against Rangers in the old Third Division. Darren Young’s side were far from disgraced, though. Their effort and organisation was commendable.
Fresh from a 1-1 draw at Pittodrie on Tuesday night, Van Bronckhorst dug deep into his squad to make eight changes to the starting line-up. Tavernier, Connor Goldson and Hagi were the only three players retained from midweek.
Some of the names introduced were more surprising than others. Brandon Barker practically had to be defrosted, so long has the winger been kept in cold storage. This was his first Rangers appearance for a year and a first start since November 2020. After spending a spell on loan at Oxford United last season, the expectation is of him quietly bidding farewell to Ibrox when his contract expires this summer.
Jack Simpson was also given a rare outing, slotting into a less famliar left-back role, while Leon Balogun returned from injury in central defence. At the apex of the side, Itten was given his first start since returning from a loan at German outfit Gruether Furth.
A further alteration was soon forced on Van Bronckhorst. Attempting to connect with a Tavernier flick into the area, Hagi suffered a painful collision with Stirling centre-back Jordan McGregor and immediately signalled for treatment after seemingly jarring his knee. The Romanian made it back to his feet but his game was over. He walked gingerly around the perimeter of the pitch while Lowry was introduced to warm applause.
Before his arrival, this radically rejigged line-up hadn’t exactly shown fluency. Stirling were impressively organised in a 4-5-1 shape, yet the part-timers must have feared a far tougher examination than they received in the opening half hour.
Greater imagination was needed to break them down. Step forward Lowry. The teenager added precision and poise to replace the earlier huff and puff.
Just 16 minutes into his first-team career, Lowry claimed his first Rangers goal. And it was a lovely one, too.
Nimble footwork preceded a sharp pass into the feet of Juninho Bacuna before he moved into space to take the return. Lowry’s finish was clever. Reversing the direction of the ball, he wrong-footed Blair Currie to find the corner of the net and create a memory to treasure.
Currie had earlier denied Itten from point-blank range when the striker sought to convert a Tavernier cross with his torso. The Swiss striker frantically appealed the ball had crossed the line. It wouldn’t have been a debate if he’d found the necessary finish.
Itten was then thwarted by a brilliant sliding block from Adam Cummins before Rangers doubled the lead on 37 minutes with the first of their penalties. McGregor handled inside the area and Tavernier thumped the ball low beyond Currie.
The Ibrox captain couldn’t repeat the trick just three minutes later. On this occasion, a mistimed challenge by Mason Hancock on Barker led referee John Beaton to point to the spot. Tavernier went more centrally with his strike and Currie repelled.
With any anxiety over a shock removed, Rangers were able to ease their way through the second period.
Fashion Sakala had been lively enough cutting inside off the left flank and he tested Currie with a powerful strike pushed wide. From the resulting corner, the goalkeeper again intervened to stop a Balogun header.
A third goal arrived on 59 minutes. Again, Lowry was involved. Refusing to give up possession, he managed to feed John Lundstram on a little forward surge. A pass into the feet of Itten allow the frontman to swivel and thump home an angled effort.
Stirling substitute Dylan Macklin saw a strike beaten out by Jon McLaughlin before Sakala swept home in the 87th minute.