How Ross County stunned Rangers in 2003 with a historic Scottish Cup win

Ross County are one of the few teams that can claim to have knocked Rangers out of the Scottish Cup in the last two decades. The Highlanders achieved this feat in 2003, when they were still a second-tier club and Rangers were the reigning champions. In this article, we look back at how Ross County pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Scottish football history.

The build-up to the match

Ross County had reached the fourth round of the Scottish Cup for the first time in their history, after beating Forfar Athletic and Stirling Albion in the previous rounds. They were drawn against Rangers, who had won the cup 31 times and were the favourites to retain it. Rangers had also won the league title the previous season and were in the hunt for another domestic treble.

However, Ross County were not intimidated by their illustrious opponents. They had a young and ambitious manager in Alex Smith, who had previously led Aberdeen to two Scottish Cups and a European Cup Winners’ Cup. They also had a squad of players who were eager to prove themselves against the best in the country. Some of them, such as Steven Ferguson, David Winters and Sean Higgins, had been released by Rangers as youngsters and were keen to show them what they had missed.

Rangers, on the other hand, were going through a turbulent period. They had lost their captain and talisman Barry Ferguson to Blackburn Rovers in August 2003, and had failed to replace him adequately. They had also suffered a humiliating exit from the Champions League group stage, finishing bottom of their group with only four points. Their manager, Alex McLeish, was under pressure from the fans and the media, who questioned his tactics and signings.

 Ross County stunned Rangers

The match was scheduled for Sunday, January 26, 2003, at Victoria Park, Dingwall. It was the first time that Ross County had hosted Rangers in a competitive fixture, and the stadium was packed with 6,310 spectators, a record attendance for the club. The atmosphere was electric, as the home fans sensed a historic opportunity to cause an upset.

The first half: Ross County take the lead

The match kicked off at 3 pm, with Ross County wearing their traditional dark blue and white stripes, and Rangers wearing their away kit of red, white and black. The visitors started the match as expected, dominating possession and creating chances. However, they found it hard to break down the disciplined and determined Ross County defence, who were well organised by their captain, John Rankin.

Ross County also posed a threat on the counter-attack, using their pace and movement to unsettle the Rangers backline. They had the first clear chance of the match in the 15th minute, when Ferguson raced clear of Lorenzo Amoruso and fired a low shot that was saved by Stefan Klos. The rebound fell to Winters, who blasted it over the bar from close range.

Rangers responded with a series of corners and free kicks, but they failed to test the Ross County goalkeeper, Mark Brown, who was making his debut for the club. The closest they came was in the 28th minute, when Shota Arveladze headed a cross from Michael Mols just wide of the post.

Ross County, however, were growing in confidence and belief, and they stunned Rangers by taking the lead in the 37th minute. A long ball from Rankin was flicked on by Ferguson to Winters, who beat the offside trap and ran into the box. He calmly slotted the ball past Klos and into the bottom corner, sending the home fans into ecstasy. It was a historic moment for Ross County, who had scored their first ever goal against Rangers.

The second half: Ross County hold on for a famous win

Rangers came out for the second half with more urgency and intensity, knowing that they had to score at least twice to avoid a shock exit. They brought on Ronald de Boer and Peter Lovenkrands for Emerson and Nuno Capucho, hoping to add more creativity and firepower to their attack.

However, Ross County were not willing to give up their lead easily. They defended with passion and resilience, throwing their bodies on the line to block shots and crosses. They also continued to threaten on the break, with Ferguson and Winters causing problems for the Rangers defence with their speed and movement.

Rangers had a few chances to equalise, but they were either denied by Brown or their own poor finishing. In the 58th minute, Mols had a header saved by Brown from a corner. In the 65th minute, Arveladze had a shot blocked by Rankin from close range. In the 73rd minute, Lovenkrands had a volley that went over the bar from a good position.

Ross County, meanwhile, had a couple of opportunities to extend their lead, but they were also wasteful in front of goal. In the 76th minute, Higgins had a shot that was saved by Klos after a good run by Ferguson. In the 83rd minute, Winters had a chance to seal the win, but he dragged his shot wide after being played through by Rankin.

As the match entered the final minutes, Rangers threw everything they had at Ross County, but they could not find a way through. The home side held on for a famous and historic 1-0 win, sending their fans into a frenzy. It was one of the biggest upsets in Scottish Cup history, and one of the most memorable days for Ross County.

The aftermath: Ross County make history, Rangers face crisis

The final whistle sparked scenes of jubilation and disbelief at Victoria Park, as Ross County celebrated their historic victory. They had become the first lower-league club to knock Rangers out of the Scottish Cup since Berwick Rangers in 1967, and the first ever to do so at home. They had also earned themselves a place in the fifth round of the competition, where they would face another top-flight club, Dundee.

The Ross County players and staff were hailed as heroes by their fans and the media, who praised their performance and spirit. Their manager, Alex Smith, said that it was the best result of his career, and that he was proud of his players. He also thanked the fans for their support, and said that they deserved to enjoy the moment.

Rangers, on the other hand, faced a barrage of criticism and scrutiny after their shock defeat. They had suffered one of the most embarrassing results in their history, and had seen their hopes of a domestic treble dashed. Their manager, Alex McLeish, admitted that it was a disaster, and that he took full responsibility for the loss. He also apologised to the fans, and said that he understood their anger and frustration.

The Rangers players and board were also under fire from the fans and the media, who questioned their commitment and quality. Some fans called for McLeish to resign, and others demanded a major overhaul of the squad. The Rangers board, however, backed McLeish, and said that they had faith in him to turn things around. They also said that they would support him in the transfer market, and that they would not panic.

The defeat to Ross County proved to be a turning point for both clubs. Ross County went on to reach the Scottish Cup final for the first time in their history, where they lost 3-0 to Celtic. They also won promotion to the Scottish Premier League for the first time in 2010, and have since established themselves as a top-flight club.

Rangers, meanwhile, went on to finish second in the league, 17 points behind Celtic, and lost in the semi-finals of the League Cup to Hibernian. They also failed to qualify for the Champions League the following season, and entered a period of decline and turmoil. They were hit by financial problems, and were liquidated in 2012. They had to start from the fourth tier of Scottish football, and have only recently returned to the top flight.

The 2003 Scottish Cup match between Ross County and Rangers remains one of the most remarkable and memorable matches in Scottish football history. It was a day when the underdogs triumphed over the giants, and when the impossible became possible.

By Dayna Bass

Dayna Bass is a talented news writer at our website, delivering compelling and timely stories to our readers. With a passion for journalism and a keen eye for detail, Dayna covers a wide range of topics, ensuring that our audience stays informed about the latest news and developments. Whether it's breaking news, investigative reports, or human interest stories, Dayna's articles are meticulously researched and written with clarity and accuracy.

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