St Johnstone 2-2 Rangers: Saints hustle Ibrox side into submission

Gegenpressing comes to Perthshire. Tommy Wright is no-one’s idea of a manager inclined to observe prevailing trends. However, he admitted this was a performance built on a plan to harass the Rangers defence into submission.

Sunday, 23rd February 2020, 4:27 pm
Updated Sunday, 23rd February 2020, 10:03 pm
Stevie May celebrates his equaliser for St Johnstone against Rangers. Picture: Alan Harvey / SNS
Stevie May celebrates his equaliser for St Johnstone against Rangers. Picture: Alan Harvey / SNS

These in-vogue tactics worked in the final analysis – and with potentially dire consequences for Steven Gerrard’s side.

Wright conceded playing with two strikers represented a gamble. But it paid off, with Callum Hendry and Stevie May scoring a goal each while also tormenting the Rangers defenders, in the first 45 minutes especially.

Rangers: Get the latest team news, match previews and reports

Rangers: Get the latest team news, match previews and reports

The visitors botched what looked set to be another impressive comeback. May’s equaliser after 80 minutes completely silenced the three stands full of visiting fans. They are sorely aware of the damage incurred by more dropped points.

St Johnstone are the ultimate hustlers. They increased the area given to away supporters, reaped the profit from around 6,000 ticket sales and then proceeded to ensure the Rangers supporters were left feeling swindled as they shuffled away.

Their only positive, along with news that Eamonn Brophy had given Kilmarnock a short-lived lead against Celtic, was a lively performance from Florian Kamberi, who was sent on at half-time to retrieve the situation and very nearly managed it with the help of Joe Aribo, a hero from midweek against Braga.

With Rangers’ endeavours against the Portuguese side in mind, St Johnstone had two options. Either pack the midfield and seek to establish a foothold in the game by keeping Rangers at bay or else tear into the visitors from the off in the hope they might still be living off the hype created by their comeback on Thursday.

Wright, pictured, chose the latter approach. On a bobbly, sandy surface, it was the right course of action. Connor Goldson and Katic looked uncomfortable in the extreme. Indeed, the latter provided the unintentional assist for Hendry’s opener after only eight minutes by simply booting the ball high in the air following May’s flick on. There was still much for Hendry to do. His finish said everything about his confidence levels at present. He cushioned the ball on his chest and then placed a left-footed shot under Allan McGregor and into the corner of the net.

What might his father say? Colin Hendry won a league title with the Ibrox side in 1998-99. Now his son has possibly helped torpedo Rangers’ chances this season.

Katic was already identified as an accident waiting to happen. That continued to be the case throughout. Perhaps surprisingly, Gerrard, who had George Edmundson among his substitutes, opted to persist with the centre half. He possibly anticipated having to perform some surgery in the forward area with Ianis Hagi looking heavy-legged after his midweek heroics and Alfredo Morelos once again misfiring. Kamberi was sent on at half-time for Andy Halliday as Rangers matched St Johnstone by playing two up front. Aribo dropped back to left back.

There is a school of thought that Hibs got the better end of the deal that saw Kamberi head to Ibrox in return for Greg Docherty, who has settled in quickly at Easter Road. Hibs fans might not be so quick to crow now. Kamberi displayed his quality, with Gerrard remarking that the finish for his equaliser, just five minutes after coming on, was “world class”. His energy helped revitalise Rangers, temporarily at least. He swung a red right boot at James Tavernier’s deep cross and made a glorious first-time connection. The ball swept beyond Zander Clark from just inside the box.

It was very much a case of game on. The Rangers fans began to believe again. The home supporters understandably feared the worst. They had been in this movie before. It felt like a defining moment when the unmarked Jamie McCart blazed over after being set up by Jason Kerr’s header. Had the chance fallen to a front player, St Johnstone would have been 2-0 in front.

Kamberi seemed on a one-man mission to ensure St Jonstone regretted such profligacy. His dummy on the left from Katic’s pass left Kerr flummoxed and the striker had the presence of mind to then pick out Aribo, who tapped in to put Rangers in front with just under 20 minutes to play.

Five minutes later Morelos came off, rather unhappily it has to be noted, to be replaced by Steven Davis. Greg Stewart was sent on for Hagi shortly afterwards. With Morelos and Hagi went much of Rangers’ firepower though Gerrard clearly hoped that, by shoring up the midfield, Rangers could prevail without the need for further goals.

The manager has now had it confirmed to him that he cannot trust his defence. Some might say he should have already known this.

A long ball over the top was headed behind by Katic. There was evidence of confusion in the Rangers side, possibly because of the recent substitutions, even before David Wotherspoon took the corner.

Kamberi tried to catch the dugout’s attention to find out where he should be – further up the field keeping the St Johnstone defenders occupied or back helping out? He eventually received word to do the latter and took up position on the edge of the box. Still, there was a sense that Rangers were not sufficiently organised and they paid the price.

Katic could only half-clear at the near post and the unmarked May pounced to rifle a shot back past McGregor for his eighth goal of what has been, for him personally, a much more productive season.