Rangers have now completed half the job - 19 to go as St Johnstone swotted aside
They have only completed half of the job, but Rangers’ prospects of becoming Scottish champions for the first time in a decade continue to look decidedly rosy after a 3-0 win over St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park.
It’s now 19 down and 19 to go for Steven Gerrard’s team in the Premiership and while they will be taking nothing for granted at this stage, the 16-point lead they have established over Celtic becomes an increasingly daunting one for the reigning champions to try and reel in as the fixtures tick by, even with three games in hand.
This looked like a potentially awkward assignment for Rangers as they embarked on an intensive spell of matches over the festive period, leading up to the second Old Firm showdown of the season at Ibrox on January 2.
But after a couple of shaky moments in the early stages, they delivered a generally commanding display to rack up an 11th straight win in the league.
Kemar Roofe continued his rich vein of scoring form, giving Rangers the lead with his eighth goal in his last nine games.
Glen Kamara doubled the advantage before the break and Ianis Hagi put them in cruise control early in the second half.
Two changes for Rangers
Joe Aribo and Ianis Hagi were both rewarded for the impact they had as second half substitutes at Ibrox on Saturday when Rangers overturned a 1-0 deficit to beat Motherwell 3-1.
They were the only two changes to Gerrard’s line-up as both Scott Arfield and Jermain Defoe dropped to the bench. It was a first starting appearance in the Premiership for Hagi since October.
The Romanian playmaker didn’t take long to vindicate his selection as he made a telling contribution to the goal which gave Rangers their 24th minute breakthrough.
Kamara pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the centre circle and sent Hagi racing through the middle. Working the ball onto his left foot, he drove in a low shot which Zander Clark could only parry into the path of Roofe who tapped in from close range.
Seven minutes later, Rangers were firmly in control when Kamara doubled their lead with his first league goal of the campaign. Aribo was the creator with a perfectly weighted through ball which split the St Johnstone defence and left Kamara one-on-one with Clark. The Finnish international’s composed finish left the Saints ‘keeper helpless.
Gerrard’s men had established an air of authority after an opening to the contest which had offered the hosts some encouragement.
Early scares at the back for Rangers
Having looked so solid defensively for most of the season, Rangers had conceded goals in each of their three previous matches and there were some early signs of vulnerability here.
An inexplicably slack pass from Kamara after just three minutes presented David Wotherspoon with a sight of goal but his hesitancy on the ball allowed Connor Goldson to snuff out the opportunity.
Chris Kane then found space to set up Murray Davidson with a shooting chance and while Allan McGregor was able to make a comfortable save, the veteran goalkeeper wasn’t slow to exhort his team-mates to tighten things up.
But once Kamara curled his team’s first effort at goal narrowly off target, Rangers were in the ascendancy and the double salvo before the break left them firmly on course to maintain their impressive momentum in the title race.
Hagi seals it
St Johnstone made a double substitution at the start of the second half, replacing Davidson and Craig Conway with Ali McCann and Stevie May in a bid to turn the tide.
But those hopes were swept aside when Rangers made it 3-0 less than two minutes after the restart.
It was fine work once more in the build-up from the gracefully athletic Aribo who collected the ball in midfield and threaded a pass through to Roofe. The striker’s first touch was sure and allowed him to get away a shot which was blocked by Shaun Rooney.
The ball broke back into the path of Hagi whose low shot squirmed through the legs of Clark who would feel he should have kept it out.
It looked every inch the lost cause for Saints now but they almost pulled a goal back in the 56th minute when May stole a yard on Filip Helander to latch onto a Kane pass. The striker looked favourite to score but was denied by a fine save from the evergreen McGregor.
Morelos barren run continues
Alfredo Morelos had to settle for a place on the bench as he returned from a two-match suspension and he was introduced just after the hour as he replaced Roofe.
St Johnstone were reduced to 10 men in the 83rd minute when former Rangers forward Michael O’Halloran was sent off for two bookable offences within six minutes of coming on to replace Danny McNamara, the second of them a wild challenge on Borna Barisic which incensed Gerrard.
Morelos should have set the seal on a satisfying night for Rangers but the Colombian is still waiting for his first league goal since September after he wastefully shot wide of Clark’s right hand post after being sent clear.
St Johnstone (3-4-3): Clark, Rooney, Gordon, McCart; McNamara (O’Halloran 77), Davidson (McCann 46), Bryson (Melamed 82), Booth; Conway (May 46), Kane (Craig 82), Wotherspoon. Subs not used: Parish, Hendry, Ferguson.
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Helander, Barisic; Aribo, Davis (Zungu 77), Kamara; Hagi (Arfield 82), Roofe (Morelos 64), Kent (Itten 82). Subs not used: McLaughlin, Bassey, Balogun, Patterson, Defoe.
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