Rangers have ended 2020 with a comfortable win against St. Mirren in Paisley as the Gers eased to three points thanks to two first-half goals at the SMISA Stadium.
The Gers made two changes from the weekend win over Hibs as Leon Balogun and Ryan Kent dropped to the bench to be replaced in the starting XI by Fil Helander and Alfredo Morelos
Jim Goodwin’s side had only lost one of their last 13 fixtures, including the League Cup triumph over Rangers earlier this month as they looked to become the first team to beat the Light Blues in the Scottish Premiership this season.
Since that defeat in Paisley a few weeks ago, the Light Blues have won all three games prior to this afternoon and, with 2021 getting started with the visit of Old Firm rivals Celtic, a fourth win was exactly what fans were looking for to bring 2020 to a close.
There was almost an immediate scare for the visitors as Jamie McGrath stole the ball from Steven Davis, driving at goal before unleashing a long-range effort that was comfortably dealt with by McGregor.
After avoiding conceding an early opener, Rangers looked to take control of the game and dictate the tempo but hosts were quick to match up to the Light Blues and shock Gerrard’s side again.
The hosts came even closer to opening the scoring after McGregor spilled a shot from Dylan Connolly before Jon Obika somehow failed to convert from close range, leaving Rangers breathing a massive sigh of relief.
When Rangers did try to get forward, it was Morelos who looked the most likely to make something happen as the Colombian made a bright start on his return to the starting XI.
Despite St. Mirren’s block proving pretty effective in the opening stages, the Gers’ patience on the ball was evident as the Light Blues looked comfortable moving it around and waiting for an opportunity to push forward.
Just as Rangers started to take control of the game, it was 1-0 Rangers when Kemar Roofe got a big slice of luck to divert his shot over the head of Jak Alnwick.
Hagi’s fantastic pass sent the Gers striker in behind the Buddies defence before his effort came off the boot of a St. Mirren defender and spun into the back of the net.
Rangers immediately looked far more comfortable after Roofe’s goal, the Gers’ midfield trio of Davis, Kamara and Aribo having more room to play and start dominating the game.
Six minutes later, it was 2-0 and looked like game over as Alfredo Morelos showed brilliant composure to lie Alnwick down then coolly finish after a horrible mistake by Saints skipper Joe Shaughnessy.
The defender’s pass-back was far too short and Morelos burst onto the ball and left Alnwick sprawling before picking his spot and ending his recent goal drought.
Morelos almost grabbed a second a few minutes later, ending a looping header close after a fantastic delivery from James Tavernier found the Colombian striker.
The quick-fire double-whammy from Rangers had the hosts reeling as the game neared the break and the Light Blues looked much more dominant in the closing stages of the first half.
After looking eager to get in Rangers’ faces in the early stages, Goodwin’s side looked much more passive and seemed happy to allow their visitors plenty of the ball in the middle of the park.
There won’t have been much to concern Steven Gerrard from the opening 45 and the Gers manager will have been reassured by his side’s performance with the likes of Ryan Jack and Scott Arfield missing in midfield.
The Light Blues started the second 45 very much in control of the game as they tried to find a third goal and properly kill the game off, St. Mirren dropping deeper and deeper and allowing the Gers to dictate proceedings.
While Gerrard resisted the temptation to turn to his subs at half-time, the Gers boss must have had one eye on the weekend’s Old Firm clash and ensuring the likes of Borna Barisic, Steven Davis and Kemar Roofe were fit for the visit of Celtic.
As the game entered the final 30 minutes, Rangers shifted tactically to something more like a 4-4-1-1 with Roofe dropping in behind Morelos as they looked to avoid a late sucker punch and allowing St. Mirren back into the game.
The Gers continued to probe the Saints’ defence, with Joe Aribo taking control of the game and causing massive problems for the hosts before Roofe saw an effort cleared off the line – his last action of the afternoon before being replaced by Ryan Kent.
The third goal almost seemed inevitable and Rangers must have thought they had it when Morelos’ pass split the St. Mirren defence and sent Hagi through but the Romanian’s couldn’t get his effort on target after getting his decision wrong.
With another three points looking secure, the Gers were able to comfortably see the game out and ensure they go into Saturday’s Old Firm with a 16-point lead over Celtic.
Hopefully, Rangers can start 2021 in the same way they ended 2020 and build a long unbeaten run on the way to title 55.
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Helander, Barisic, Kamara, Davis, Kamara, Hagi, Roofe, Morelos.
Subs: McLaughlin, Bassey, Defoe, Itten, Kent, Zungu, Patterson, Barker, Balogun
St. Mirren: Alnwick, Fraser, Shaughnessy, McCarthy, Tait, Connolly, McGrath, Doyle-Hayes, Erhahon, Mason, Obika.
Subs: Lyness, Flynn, Foley, MacPherson, McAllister, Durmus, Morias, Dennis, Erwin
Here’s how Rangers fans reacted before kick-off when Gerrard’s starting XI was confirmed to face the Buddies