Rangers toiled to a 1-1 draw with Hamilton after thinking a late own goal was going to be enough to secure the three points against Brian Rice’s side – before Accies equalised with the last kick of the ball to put the Gers’ hopes of securing the title at Celtic Park next month took a dent.
The point was Hamilton’s first at home against the Light Blues since 1954 and leaves Steven Gerrard’s side needing 16 points from their remaining 10 games to secure the title.
Gerrard made three changes from the midweek win over St. Johnstone, as Bongani Zungu, Glen Kamara and Cedric Itten came into the starting XI in place of Ryan Jack, Steven Davis and Kemar Roofe – with new boys Scott Wright and Jack Simpson on the bench. [Rangers]
Accies were lucky not to be reduced to ten men within the first minute after a dangerous challenge on Connor Goldson saw Ross Callachan earn a yellow card from Bobby Madden, but it probably should have been a sending off.
The Light Blues took control of the early possession, moving the ball around in midfield and trying to find gaps in the Hamilton defence in search of the opening goal on a bitterly cold afternoon.
Ryan Kent looked most likely to make something happen for the visitors with the winger running at the Hamilton backline and causing problems but not really forcing anything from Accies keeper Ryan Fulton.
Hamilton were far from just passengers though, creating opportunities of their own and forcing the Light Blues to be alert to the high press as they tried to play out from defence.
After losing the last meeting between the sides 8-0, Brian Rice’s side looked keen to make amends and avoid a repeat of that particularly shambolic performance.
While both sides were looking to make a contest of it, there was a distinct lack of real quality on display from either and it will have concerned Steven Gerrard as the first third of the game passed by.
The Gers continued to push forward looking for the opening goal, Tavernier and Barisic providing a constant threat down the flanks but Fulton had very little to do as attack after attack petered out in the final third.
Ten minutes before the break Joe Aribo came within inches of finally breaking the deadlock as he drove forward from midfield before sending a left foot effort whistling past the post from the edge of the area.
Accies came close themselves just a minute or two later as Bruce Anderson pinched the ball from Helander and fired at goal with McGregor rushing to close the angle and making it tough for the on-loan striker to get his shot on target.
Cedric Itten was next to try his luck from distance before the break, his shot from outside the area blocked at the cost of a corner with Fulton doing well to keep out Goldson’s header from the resulting set-piece.
Rangers had one last chance before the break to make it 1-0 but Tavernier sent his free-kick just over the bar, allowing the hosts to breathe a sigh of relief.
The Gers almost started the second half with an instant goal, Ryan Kent getting in behind the Accies defence and firing just wide within 20 seconds of Bobby Madden getting the second 45 underway.
Ianis Hagi had a shout for a penalty just a minute later when the Romanian was brought down just inside the area by Brian Easton but Madden saw nothing in it and allowed the play to continue.
Rangers kept flooding forward with Kent again the focal point but the Gers still couldn’t get the opener despite having several chances to break the deadlock and take a deserved lead.
Although he had very little to do in the preceding 53 minutes, Allan McGregor was again the hero for Rangers, making two fantastic saves in close order to deny Hamilton a shock opener.
The veteran showed excellent reactions to keep Hamilton at bay and hopefully head towards yet another clean-sheet on the march to the title.
Gerrard turned to his bench with 30 minutes left on the clock, replacing Bongani Zungu an hour into his first Premiership start with Ryan Jack – the South African international doing little to help stake his claim for a regular starting place in the coming weeks.
Hamilton were continuing to make life difficult for Rangers to really break them down, sticking to their defensive tasks admirably and putting in the sort of shift that is sure to have pleased manager Brian Rice.
Jack’s introduction was followed five minutes later by Kemar Roofe coming off the bench to replace Cedric Itten as Gerrard again went like-for-like with his changes despite his side struggling to really break Hamilton down.
With the minutes ticking down and Hamilton increasingly camped in their own half, withdrawing one of the more defence-minded midfielders for an attacker would have made a bit more sense.
There was another gilt-edged opportunity for Rangers to take the lead through Kent when he got on the end of an exquisite pass from Jack but got his shot all wrong with the minutes ticking away.
McGregor again saved Rangers’ blushes as the keeper made a smart save from Ross Callachan’s free-kick to deny the Accies a lead they were starting to really come close to getting.
Gerrard took his last roll of the dice with his subs bringing Steven Davis and debutant Scott Wright in for the final ten minutes or so with Kamara and Hagi making way – and it only took minutes for it to pay off.
GOAL! GOAL! An own goal from Easton. pic.twitter.com/zp1fvJ3AtD
— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) February 7, 2021
Davis’ pass sent Barisic free down the left and the Croatian’s cross was diverted into the back of the net off Brian Easton with James Tavernier waiting to pounce.
The Gers looked to have secured a narrow win against Hamilton until the dying seconds when Callachan squeezed the ball under McGregor after Bruce Anderson had been left unmarked to head at goal and force a good save from the keeper.
Rangers can have little complaint with the result though after being so wasteful in possession and fans will be expecting to see much better against Kilmarnock in six days time.
Hamilton: Fulton, Odoffin, McMann, Easton, Hamilton, Anderson, Ogkmpoe, Trafford, A. Martin, Hodson, Callachan.
Subs: Gourlay, Hughes, S. Tanger, Mimnaugh, Winter, Moyo, Munro, Slaven, C. Smith.
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Helander, Barisic, Aribo, Zungu, Kamara, Hagi, Kent, Itten.
Subs: McLaughlin, Bassey, Simpson, Jack, Davis, Patterson, Wright, Roofe, Balogun.
Here’s how Rangers fans reacted on Twitter after it was confirmed Cedric Itten was starting ahead of Kemar Roofe