James Tavernier leads by example again as Rangers maintain title push with comfortable victory over Ross County
It’s hard to believe there was a time when many Rangers fans doubted whether James Tavernier was officer material.
The Ibrox club’s captain continued his extraordinary season with another hugely influential display in their 4-0 win over Ross County in Dingwall. At this rate, it won’t only be the Premiership trophy Tavernier is lifting at the end of the campaign but also the Player of the Year award.
He scored his 16th goal of the season and provided two assists – taking his tally on that front to 12 – as Steven Gerrard’s team extended their unbeaten run in all competitions in 2020-21 to 25 games.
Premiership the priority for Gerrard
Although Rangers still have one more assignment to fulfil in the Europa League, a trip to face Lech Poznan in Poland on Thursday where victory would ensure they top Group D and are seeded in the round of 32 draw, it was clear here where Gerrard’s priority lay.
While he has regularly made five or six changes to his starting line-up for league games after a midweek European match this season, there were only two alterations this time as Rangers looked to reinforce their advantage in the title race.
Borna Barisic was replaced by Calvin Bassey at left-back, while Joe Aribo took Scott Arfield’s slot in the midfield three. Otherwise, it was the side which twice came from behind to defeat Standard Liege 3-2 at Ibrox last Thursday.
Playing the waiting game
It quickly became clear that this was a day when Rangers would have to exercise patience as they were faced with a 5-4-1 County set-up designed to try and suffocate the visitors in central midfield and limit their opportunities to work the ball into dangerous positions in the wider areas.
The league leaders predictably dominated possession from the off but took some time to plot their way through the dark blue wall of shirts content to sit behind the ball.
A Bassey cross, clutched just under his own crossbar by Ross Laidlaw, was the only hint of attacking menace Rangers could provide in the opening stages before they almost found themselves a goal behind in the 26th minute.
A superb diagonal pass from Iain Vigurs picked out Harry Paton on the right, catching the previously unworked Rangers defence on their heels. Paton’s fine first touch allowed him to engineer a shooting chance but he was denied by a fine save from Allan McGregor.
It perhaps served as a jolt to Rangers who picked up the tempo and took the lead two minutes later. A wonderfully perceptive pass from Steven Davis stretched the County defence and set Tavernier free down the right. The Rangers captain’s low ball across the face of the six yard box was stabbed home by Kemar Roofe for his eighth goal of the season.
The English forward might easily have added to his tally in Rangers’ next attack. Forceful play from Alfredo Morelos saw the ball break off Coll Donaldson into the path of Roofe whose rising first time shot from just inside the penalty area flew narrowly over.
Tempers flared at the end of the first half when Vigurs was booked for a reckless foul on Morelos. In the aftermath, Michael Gardyne was also booked for dissent with several Rangers players taking exception to his verbal intervention. Gerrard appeared to back up their protests when he strode over to speak to referee John Beaton as the teams left the pitch for the interval.
Rangers made a vibrant start to the second half and soon had the match firmly under control.
They almost doubled their lead in the 49th minute following some direct and incisive wing play from Ryan Kent on the left. His cross picked out Roofe whose header was parried by Laidlaw before a follow-up effort from Morelos was bravely blocked by Morris.
But Rangers now had the bit firmly between their teeth in pursuit of a second goal which duly came their way just seven minutes later. Again, the chance owed much to the quick feet and sharpness of Kent. When a shot from Morelos was deflected into his path, the winger instantly brought the ball under control before driving it low across the face of the six-yard box. Roofe got to it first and his shot was deflected off Josh Reid for Tavernier to touch home his seventh goal from open play this season.
Connor Randall, a half-time substitute for County, should have halved the deficit for the home side in the 67th minute when he scooped a shot over from close range after Reid’s dangerous cross had been flicked on by Ross Stewart.
But any encouragement that gave County evaporated five minutes later when Rangers made it 3-0. Connor Goldson’s superb pass set Tavernier racing clear once again down the right and his low cross, intended for Morelos, was miscued horribly into his own net by Morris as he got his feet tangled up in his attempt to clear.
Defoe provides late flourish
Jermain Defoe, making his 800th career appearance as a 75th minute replacement for Morelos, sealed another satisfying afternoon for Rangers when he grabbed their fourth goal in the 90th minute.
Fellow substitute Cedric Itten did well to win the ball on the left and his low cross found Defoe who turned in predatory fashion to fire home from close range.
Ross County (4-5-1): Laidlaw, Watson (Randall 46), Donaldson, Morris, Iacovitti, Reid (Charles-Cook 74); Paton, Tillson (Wright 88), Vigurs, Gardyne (Hylton 81); Stewart. Subs not used: Doohan, Mckay, Williamson.
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Bassey; Kamara (Zungu 75), Davis, Aribo (Arfield 66); Roofe (Itten 75), Morelos (Defoe 75), Kent (Hagi 75). Subs not used: McLaughlin, Barker, Patterson, Barisic.
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