Rangers breeze past St Johnstone to go top

Rangers moved top of the table on goal difference as they swept St Johnstone aside 3-0 – but it will be the five-point lead they already hold on Celtic that will excite Steven Gerrard.

With the Hoops grounded by order of the Scottish Government following Boli Bolingoli’s unauthorised trip to Spain, Rangers were looking to pile the pressure on Neil Lennon’s 10-in-a-row chasers as they welcomed Callum Davidson’s Saints to Ibrox.

Borna Barisic, Ryan Kent and Joe Aribo all scored to hand Gerrard’s side a comfortable win as they edged above Hibernian to the Scottish Premiership summit.

And if they can maintain that 100 per cent record against Livingston and Kilmarnock over the next two weekends, then Celtic will walk out at Tannadice a week on Saturday with an 11-point deficit and a looming fixture pile-up to worry about.

Gerrard named the same team which eased past St Mirren on Sunday while Liam Craig registered his 400th appearance for St Johnstone.

Borna Barisic gave Rangers an early lead
Borna Barisic gave Rangers an early lead

It was the visitors who launched out the blocks, however, as they immediately went to hunt down the hosts.

Their tenacity almost brought them the opener five minutes in. Alfredo Morelos was short with a pass to Ianis Hagi and St Johnstone were on to it in a flash.

David Wotherspoon fed Callum Hendry who twisted Leon Balogun one way, then the other, before drilling a low strike which Jon McLaughlin did well to parry away. But Saints switched off for a moment and paid the price.

Wotherspoon dived in on Morelos from the wrong side to hand Gers a free-kick 25 yards out on 21 minutes, which Barisic arced over the wall and past Elliot Paris with a trademark sweep of his left foot.

Even after taking the lead, however, Gerrard’s men were still being forced to graft for every half chance.

Kent, Morelos and James Tavernier all blazed over after being rushed into shooting by Davidson’s dogged team. But when they were given a rare pocket of space on the stroke of half-time, Rangers proved clinical.

Ryan Kent challenges Dan McNamara
Ryan Kent challenges Dan McNamara

Aribo found Hagi all alone 30 yards out and for the first time in the game, the Romanian made a contribution worthy of note as he fired the ball wide for Barisic.

It set up a carbon copy of December’s goal at Celtic Park, with the Croatian picking out Kent inside the box who then rifled home.

Balogun had to be replaced by Filip Helander at the break but the switch made no difference to Rangers as they wrapped up the points within four minutes of the restart.

Aribo teed up Morelos for a strike which Parish parried wide, but no-one was keeping tabs on the former Charlton playmaker as Tavernier delivered the corner and he glanced home at the near post.

Gerrard handed Kemar Roofe his debut on the hour mark as he made four changes. Fellow new boy Cedric Itten was also introduced but saw claims for a penalty waved away after being clattered into by Callum Booth.

Isaac Olaofe should have given Saints some cheer late on but fired his header straight at McLaughlin, while Roofe was denied a maiden goal by Parish’s block.

What the managers said…

Rangers boss Steven Gerrard: “The important thing tonight was to get minuted into Kemar, you can see him picking up some really interesting areas, so it’s only a matter of time before he gets fully fit.

“The best players play, those who contribute and perform at a consistent level. I said to the players tonight: ‘While you’ve got the shirt, do your best to keep it’ because there is quality on the bench.”

What’s next?

Rangers are now at Livingston on Sunday at 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports Football, while St Johnstone are at Kilmarnock at 3pm on Saturday.

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