Steven Gerrard looks certain to finish his first season as Rangers boss empty handed as his team crashed out of the William Hill Scottish Cup after a 2-0 defeat to Aberdeen.
With the Light Blues eight points adrift of Celtic in the Ladbrokes Premiership title race, Gerrard’s hopes of lifting a trophy at the end of his rookie campaign rested on steering his side through their quarter-final clash with Derek McInnes’ men.
But goals from Niall McGinn and Connor McLennan gave the Reds their third win over Gers in Glasgow this term and another trip to Hampden.
The Dons defended magnificently at times as Scott McKenna and Andy Considine again kept Alfredo Morelos quiet.
So frustrated was the Colombian that he got himself booked for diving for the second game running against the Pittodrie outfit to earn a ban that meant he would have missed the semi-final with Celtic had Rangers progressed.
But that proved inconsequential as it is the Dons who now march on to face the Hoops next month.
Aberdeen got off to a perfect start in the first tie at Pittodrie with an early goal and repeated the trick three minutes into the re-match.
Glen Kamara tried a risky square ball across his defence to James Tavernier and watched with horror as it went wrong as McGinn nicked possession before calmly beating Allan McGregor.
Ibrox was momentarily hushed but the Gers faithful shook off their shock to roar their side on. Scott Arfield looked to hit back for Gerrard’s team but his shot was blocked by Dons youngster Dean Campbell.
The hosts’ desperation to get back on level terms saw them swarm over the Reds, refusing to give them a moment’s peace.
But while Rangers’ work-rate was impressive, their quality in the final third was not. Gerrard could not hide his disgust as Daniel Candeias wasted a brilliant opening on the breakaway as the Portuguese inexplicably overcooked a cross for the unmarked Ryan Kent.
And a look of frustration swept across the Light Blues boss again in the 33rd minute. Gerrard refused to contemplate leaving out Morelos despite his top-scorer walking a suspension tightrope after being booked for taking a dive at Andrew Considine’s feet in last month’s meeting.
But the former Liverpool skipper was left to regret that call as an identical repeat of that Pittodrie scenario saw Morelos collect his second yellow of the competition.
Ryan Jack almost fired Gers level eight minutes before the break as a Borna Barisic corner broke his way but his low drive thudded off the base of the post.
The home support unleashed a flurry of ticker-tape from the Broomloan Road end as they roared their team out for the second half.
But McInnes’ men had a knack of getting a vital block in just whenever Gers thought an opening was coming their way, like when Scott McKenna stood strong to deny Tavernier on the turn.
And it was the 975-strong band of Aberdeen supporters who were cheering in the 62nd minute as McLennan put them two up.
Stevie May – deputising for the banned Sam Cosgrove – did brilliantly to hold up play as he waited for support, before picking the perfect moment to slip his young colleague in behind the Gers defence and McLennan did the rest with a cool finish past McGregor.
Gerrard had no option but to go all in and immediately threw on Jermain Defoe and Kyle Lafferty to join Morelos in a three-man attack.
But Considine produced a great block to deny Defoe while Lewis kept out a Morelos strike as Aberdeen held firm.