A late Kenny Miller goal seven minutes from time sealed a remarkable League Cup final win for nine-man Rangers over St Mirren on Sunday and wrapped up the first part of a possible domestic treble.
The Ibrox side showed dogged resilience to keep the Buddies at bay after Kevin Thomson and Danny Wilson were shown straight reds before Miller rose unmarked to head in substitute Steven Naismith's cross at Hampden for a 1-0 win. St Mirren had dominated the game with chances from Billy Mehmet and Steven Thomson cleared off the line before a David Barron shot grazed the bar.
Kevin Thomson saw red in the 53rd minute for a late challenge on namesake Steven Thomson and Wilson joined him for an early bath when he tugged Craig Dargo's shirt on the edge of the box as he raced in on goal. But the Buddies couldn't make their numerical advantage count and it was Rangers who collected the trophy for the 26th time.
"When we went down to nine men I felt it was just a matter of trying to hold on but we managed to break away and it was a terrific goal," said Rangers manager Walter Smith. "I'm really pleased for all the boys who had to put in a lot of work there."
St Mirren manager Gus MacPherson said the defeat was hard to take. "After being in control for a high percentage of the game we got caught out with a sucker punch," said the Buddies boss. "Everyone will talk about Rangers being down to nine men but even with a full compliment we were the better team."
Neil Alexander, who had played in every round of the competition, kept his place in goal ahead of regular keeper Allan McGregor. St Mirren, in search of their first major trophy in 23 years, started the game at a high tempo and had the first chance of the game. After robbing David Weir on the left-wing, Mehmet's shot from a tight angle had to be cleared from under the bar by Sasa Papac.
Graham Carey swung in a free-kick from the left which Weir cleared as St Mirren continued to press. It took until the 25th minute for Rangers to get an effort on target but Steven Whittaker's low drive from 25 yards lacked power and didn't trouble Paul Gallacher.
Kenny Miller used his pace to scamper past the Buddies defence but blasted his effort well over the bar from just inside the box. St Mirren came close to opening the scoring in the 40th minute. Higdon beat Weir for pace and his pass across goal was met by Thomson whose crisply hit shot was saved by the legs of Alexander on the line.
Barron's superbly struck shot from 30 yards then clipped the top of the bar before Alexander turned Higdon's snapshot round the post as the Buddies ended the half strongly. Nacho Novo's drilled free-kick just after the break fell to Thomson at the edge of the box but he sent his low drive wide. Mehmet showed good skill to turn Weir in the box but Lee McCulloch did enough to put him off and Alexander gathered.
Tempers began to boil over as Miller and Lee Mair squared up following a challenge before Rangers' pair Thomson and Wilson were red-carded. Rangers brought on Steven Naismith for Kris Boyd and he made an immediate impact. The forward sped down the right wing and produced an inch perfect cross for Miller who sent his header past Gallacher and into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.