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Page last updated at 21:35 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Rangers 3-0 Falkirk

By Clive Lindsay

Kris Boyd and Nacho Novo celebrate at Hampden
Boyd's return was overshadowed by Novo's two goals

Nacho Novo grabbed a double against Falkirk as Rangers eased into the final of the Co-operative Insurance Cup.

The Spaniard ensured an unhappy debut for fellow countryman Dani Mallo, but it was the goalkeeper's Rangers counterpart who starred early on.

Allan McGregor denied Bairns striker Steven Lovell with two fine saves.

But Novo stabbed home from close range then ran clear to drive in the second before, after the break, Kris Boyd pounced on a Mallo error.

It ensured that the holders would have a 24-hour wait to find out their opponents in the final, either Glasgow rivals Celtic or Dundee United, yet it was the Bairns who started the brighter.

Neil McCann, in a repeat of the opening goal in Rangers' 3-1 win in the Scottish Premier League this month, had fed the ball through to Lovell just inside the box and McGregor managed to block with his feet.

Broadfoot was dispossessed by Patrick Cregg, who had returned from suspension to replace Burton O'Brien, and Lovell's curling drive from 18 yards was turned wide by McGregor at full stretch.

But it was Rangers who took the lead against the run of play when Madjid Bougherra flicked on Pedro Mendes' corner and Novo forced it over the line at the back post after eight minutes.

The talk before the game was the return of Boyd in place of Kenny Miller as Novo's strike partner, but it was the Spaniard who was Rangers' driving force.

He was again the provider as Steven Naismith, who had been chosen ahead of John Fleck on the left, had an effort blocked and Boyd sent an overhead kick a couple of feet wide.

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Interviews: Managers Walter Smith and John Hughes

Falkirk boss John Hughes had sprung a surprise by choosing Mallo, who signed on Thursday, ahead of Robert Olejnik.

And the former Sporting Braga number one was unable to hold on to the ball after a long-range drive from Mendes, but Lee Bullen cleared the danger.

Hughes admitted before kick-off that it was a gamble to choose Mallo, but the goalkeeper gave a taste of what had impressed his new manager in training by superbly pushing away a powerful 16-yard strike by Boyd.

But Mallo was beaten again five minutes from the break, when he was left exposed by Steven Davis' defence-splitting through ball to Novo and the goalkeeper's countryman drove it low into the far corner of the net.

Novo was the first to threaten after the break, sending a powerful drive a couple of yards wide from 18 yards.

Rangers hold up a banner urging the inclusion of Kris Boyd in the Rangers team
Rangers fans were unhappy that Boyd had been dropped on Saturday

Falkirk went close when McGregor did well to turn over a looping header from Bullen and a Scott Arfield half-volley whizzed past the crossbar following the resulting corner.

Hughes abandoned his conservative formation with the introduction of Mark Stewart and Michael Higdon, but it was Rangers who came close again as a Boyd effort bounced off the turf before slipping just over the crossbar.

Falkirk's misery was complete when Mallo dribbled past Novo but was dispossessed by Boyd, who stroked the ball into the empty net with two minutes remaining.

Rangers manager Walter Smith:
"We had a slow start to the game. Once we got the first goal we created quite a few opportunities throughout the game.

"Nacho's one of those boys, he's an irrepressible type of lad. The bit of composure that he sometimes lacks is more than made up for with the effort that he puts in.

"We showed last season, in amongst a lot of games, that one of your priorities is to get to a national final.

"I always find Falkirk are an awkward team to play against. If they had scored earlier in the game, it would have been a far more awkward match for us.

"John Fleck has been a bit of a bonus for us. When I saw him at the start of the season starting to integrate in to our group, I thought it might have taken him most of this season to get started, but he has played very well.

"For somebody so young, he is quite calm on the ball. His best position is as a striker.

"Naismith has played far more games on the wider area of the pitch than John has, but John's positional sense is good as well."

Falkirk manager John Hughes:

"The second goal killed us. We had those chances. We were on the attack, flooding forward, we were all cavalier and two passes later, Nacho's put it in the back of the net.

"It wasn't to be, but it wasn't for the lack of effort. I felt we passed the ball really well but we lacked a cutting edge. You're looking to hit them on the counter.

"The boys gave me everything in terms of effort. Just on the night a bit naive in terms of controlling the game. We could have kept it longer in our own half.

"When you play against the Old Firm, you've got to take your chances. Stevie (Lovell) hit the target twice, (Allan) McGregor once again kept them in the game.

"The SPL is our bread and butter and it's imperative that we stay in it. I am confident that we can pick up results to get up that league."

Rangers: McGregor, Broadfoot, Bougherra, Weir, Papac, Davis, Mendes, Ferguson (McCulloch 86), Naismith (Fleck 77), Boyd, Novo. Subs Not Used: Whittaker, Miller, Alexander.

Goals: Novo 8, 40, Boyd 88.

Falkirk: Dani Mallo, McNamara, Bullen (Higdon 60), Barr, Pressley, Scobbie, Arfield, McBride, Cregg (Stewart 70), McCann, Lovell. Subs Not Used: O'Brien, Holden, Olejnik.

Booked: Pressley, Barr.

Attendance: 24,507

Referee: C Richmond

BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Rangers striker Nacho Novo 9.17 (on 90 minutes).

Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport's Player Rater after the match has finished.

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see also
Pressley blast at Hampden pitch
28 Jan 09 |  Falkirk
Co-op Ins Cup as it happened
27 Jan 09 |  Scottish Cups
Co-op Cup photo gallery
27 Jan 09 |  Scottish Cups
Dundee United v Celtic
27 Jan 09 |  Scottish Cups

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