Rangers’ title hopes look to have come to an end after a shattering 2-1 defeat by Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, leaving the Gers 10 points behind bitter rivals Celtic at the top of the league table.
The Gers made three changes to the side from the weekend win over Hamilton in the Scottish Cup as Andy Halliday, Niko Katic and Ryan Jack replaced Borna Barisic, George Edmundson and Glen Kamara.
It didn’t take long for the host’s gameplan to become obvious as Killie parked ten men behind the ball and invited Rangers to play through them – something the Gers struggled with for long spells of the first half.
The Light Blues saw plenty of early possession but were far too slow when moving the ball forward to really pose any threat to the Killie backline and stand-in keeper Jan Koprivec didn’t have much to do in the Kilmarnock goal early on.
Joe Aribo had a gilt-edged chance midway thought the first half after some lovely interplay saw Ianis Hagi play in Joe Aribo but the Nigerian international couldn’t get his shot on target and it went narrowly wide.
Aribo appeared to be hurt as Killie defender Dario Del Fabro challenged but 23-year-old continued for the short-term as Greg Stewart prepared for a possible change.
The goal finally came on 30 minutes as Scott Arfield scored another beauty from distance – this time firing into the top corner after the ball was worked to the Canadian from a corner and he left Koprivec flat-footed as his strike flashed past the keeper.
Just minutes later, he almost did it again when a clearance only went as far as the edge of the area and Arfield’s volley went close as the Light Blues started to really take control of the game.
Kilmarnock were lucky to still have eleven players on the pitch after Gary Dicker appeared to dive in a bid to con referee John Beaton into awarding a penalty, with no success.
There was a booking for Ryan Kent just before the break after some handbags with Alan Power, who was also booked for his part, as the pair pushed each other after a foul on the Rangers star sparking a bit of a melee to bring the first half to a close.
Scott Arfield scoring a beauty to put Rangers in front at Kilmarnock…
Then sprinting the whole way back down the pitch to celebrate with Allan McGregor in goal 😂
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 12, 2020
With a goal advantage, Rangers were able to begin the second 45 with a certain degree more patience as they continued to look for goals.
The Light Blues were working the ball around well and felt there really should have been a free-kick and a red card for Chris Burke when the ex-Ger nudged Kent and sent him sprawling.
Kent was getting onto the end of a fantastic pass from Morelos and would have been one-on-one with the Killie keeper but the referee saw it as a fair challenge.
The hosts started to get themselves back into the game a little, having a succession of corners, but Rangers were able to survive the danger and get back onto the front foot.
Morelos came within inches of scoring the second and putting the game to bed when he raced onto a ball forward from Tavernier and, with Koprivec bizarrely charging from his goal, lobbed it over the keeper and onto the top of the crossbar.
The second goal looked as though it was coming and there was a lucky escape for Kilmarnock as the ball just wouldn’t break in the box for a Rangers player with several trying to get a shot off in a proper goalmouth scramble.
Kilmarnock stunned Rangers just a minute later with an equaliser as Hamalainen’s badly hooked shot fell nicely for O’Donnell to slot home at the near post – with Gers players claiming a handball in the box by Rory McKenzie.
That left Rangers with a little under 15 minutes to save their title hopes and the Gers immediately started flooding forward.
John Beaton missed a second handball – this time inside the Kilmarnock box by a Killie defender – as the Gers tried to get themselves back in front with time running out.
Gerrard finally turned to his bench with eight minutes left as he brought Greg Stewart on for Hagi before introducing Florian Kamberi a minute or two later.
Rangers thought they’d managed to get the goal they were after when Morelos headed home but it was ruled out by Beaton for an apparent foul by the Colombian international.
The killer blow then came with two minutes left as Kilmarnock fired a long ball forward which Katic didn’t deal with and Brophy fired low beyond McGregor.
Rangers: McGregor; Tavernier, Katic, Goldson, Halliday; Jack, Aribo (Kamberi 85′), Arfield; Kent (Stewart 82′), Hagi, Morelos
Subs not used: Foderingham, Flanagan, Edmundson, Davis, Jones
Goals: Arfield 32′
Kilmarnock: Koprivec; O’Donnell, Del Fabro, Findlay, Hamalainen; Power, Dicker, McKenzie; Burke (Millen 88′), Brophy, Kabamba
Subs not used: Lyle, , Hendrie, Johnson, Taylor, Kiltie, O’Connell
Goals: O’Donnell 76′ Brophy 88′