LIVERPOOL: Andrew Jackson, Liam Coyle, Liam Collings, Rhian Brewster, Benjamin Woodburn, Okera Simmonds, Glen McAuley, Daniel Atherton, Reese McGinley, Thomas Scully, Kieran Holsgrove.
RANGERS: Kieran Wright, Aidan Wilson, Scott Gray, Kyle Bradley, Jason Krones, Kieran Balfour, Grant Nelson, Jamie Barjonas, Sam Jamieson, Liam Burt, Zak Rudden.
Rangers produced an excellent performance on Tuesday evening to defeat Liverpool by two goals to nil at Ballymena Showgrounds with a first half brace from striker Sam Jamieson deciding the tie in the Light Blues’ favour.
It was Liverpool, however, who had the upper hand in the opening stages with Reese McGinley and Rhian Brewster both going close with efforts just wide of the frame of the goal. Rangers responded to the early Reds onslaught with half chances of their own, but both Liam Burt’s and Zak Rudden’s long range efforts failed to trouble Liverpool goalkeeper Andrew Atherton. At this stage the men from Ibrox were in the ascendancy and should have had the lead on 11 minutes only for a spectacular save by Atherton to deny Liam Burt.
The pressure was beginning to tell and just four minutes later the Scottish side had the lead. A cross from the right was misjudged by Atherton in the Liverpool goal allowing Sam Jamieson time and space to tap the ball home from inside the six yard box.
Liverpool responded with a long range free kick from Benjamin Woodburn in an otherwise disappointing end to the opening period for the Merseysiders. Rangers continued to press and almost made it two when Grant Nelson acrobatically volleyed the ball goalwards on the half turn, only to see his effort nestle just over the crossbar.
On 29 minutes Rangers did manage to double their advantage when, at the third time of asking, Sam Jamieson smashed the ball past Daniel Atherton after the Liverpool goalkeeper had denied efforts from both Grant Nelson and Zak Rudden.
The second period of play followed much the same pattern as the first, with Rangers dominating position and forcing the better opportunities, restricting Liverpool to rare breakaways. On 38 minutes Sam Jamieson was unfortunate not to have completed a hat trick after his spinning effort was deflected out for a corner by Daniel Atherton. After a spell of intense Rangers pressure, Liverpool counter attacked with pace and should have reduced the arrears only for Rangers goalkeeper Kieran Wright to deny Jordan Hunter with a smart save, low to his right.
This acted as a warning for Rangers, who stepped up their efforts in search of a decisive third goal. First Liam Burt forced a stunning diving save out of Daniel Atherton before Andrew Dallas smashed the resulting rebound against the crossbar. Liverpool were on the rocks but responded with another incisive breakaway, this time Jordan Hunter fed Benjamin Woodburn, but the Reds midfielder fired wildly over the bar, wasting his sides’ best opportunity to get back into the game.
Rangers saw out the last ten minutes of the game relatively comfortably, save for a late Liverpool effort on goal from Liam Coyle after a smart cross from the left by Fergus Grogan. Substitute Adam Lewis tested Rangers goalkeeper Kieran Wright twice in added time with powerful efforts, but the Scottish goalkeeper stood firm to ensure a well earned clean sheet. Next up for Liverpool is a visit to Coleraine Showgrounds to take on County Armagh whilst Rangers travel to Riada Stadium, Ballymoney to take on O’Higgins FC.
Report by Jordan Miller