Rangers moved to second in the league with a dominant win over St Johnstone at Ibrox. There were no signs of fatigue from Thursday or nerves due to other sides dropping points as the team showed their best attacking play of the season so far. Even with some poor play at points of the match, Rangers more than deserved the 5-1 victory. The team will feel they could have scored even more, and St Johnstone won’t often face such a difficult match this season. Here’s a quick analysis of how the game unfolded.
Rangers started in their 4-3-3 shape with a few changes from the Villarreal Europa League match. Flanagan replaced the injured Barisic, and Katic was restored in defence. In midfield, McCrorie took the place of Halliday. Morelos was preferred to Lafferty up front. St Johnstone played a similar formation, with a midfield of Alston, Craig and Wotherspoon.
It was clear that St Johnstone would look to be organised, but they were allowing the more advanced players to press the ball. The first few minutes saw Rangers struggle to put together moves in advanced areas. St Johnstone almost took advantage of that as they created an early chance, with Wotherspoon meeting a good cross and hitting a shot over the bar.
A few minutes later, Rangers took the lead. An attacking move was ended when Tanser fouled Tavernier on the edge of the box. Despite the position suiting a left-footed player better, Tavernier scored from the free-kick, somehow just finding the space inside the near post. With 9 minutes gone, Rangers had changed the dynamic of the match.
Rangers kept pressing, and it created some chances for them. Morelos won the ball back from a defender and played in Kent, who had a left-foot shot saved from a tight angle. Goldson met a corner well, but his header looped just wide. Around 30 minutes into the game, Kent was fouled after a great turn and run from the left. The position on this free-kick suited Tavernier perfectly, but his strike hit the bar and was cleared.
Despite creating chances, some of Rangers’ play was a little loose. A second goal was definitely required to ease some nerves, and it came on 34 minutes. Morelos got the ball wide and fed Tavernier on the edge of the box. The striker kept his run going, received the ball back from his captain, turned onto his left foot to beat Shaughnessy, and smashed the ball past Clark at his near post. St Johnstone will feel they allowed the Rangers players too much space, but it was a goal which was deserved and much of the earlier play had driven the decisions the Perth side were making.
Rangers got a bit sloppy just after the second goal. Some decisions on the ball in defence were leading to problems. They managed to see out any issues and get in at half-time with the 2-goal lead.
From the very first minute of the second half, you could see that Gerrard’s team were intent on raising their level of performance. Only 7 minutes into the half, they increased their lead. Morelos took a beautiful touch on the turn to beat Shaughnessy and run down the right wing. His cutback found Kent, who hit a great shot and was unlucky to see it hit the bar. The rebound fell to Arfield, who was able to take a touch and score just inside the box with his shot going through Clark in goal.
Some poor play from Katic almost gave St Johnstone a goal as Watt intercepted his pass to McGregor. The striker saw his effort go just wide of the far post. Morelos had a good chance to score as he drove past Tanser on the right towards goal. From a tight angle, his shot was saved, and the rebound off the striker went just over the bar.
On the 74th-minute, Rangers made it 4-0. Arfield played a ball to Morelos and kept his run going. Candeias went beyond the striker to open up space and Morelos picked out Arfield again. He passed to substitute Kyle Lafferty, who placed the ball into the bottom corner.
A few minutes later, Arfield conceded a penalty. Rangers had dealt with a set-piece, but the ball came back in from deep and was knocked down by Kerr. Arfield was just a split-second late and brought down Alston, who then took the penalty and scored down the middle to make it 4-1.
As if to prove they were in complete control, Rangers restored the four-goal lead almost instantly. A lovely touch by Morelos found Arfield on the run, who fed it wide to Candeias. He cut inside, took a touch to set himself, then easily scored with his left foot.
There was time for another couple of chances in the match. Goldson gave the ball away to Swanson, who drove forward and shot just wide. Morelos was played through around the 90th-minute, but never got his shot away on time and was crowded out.
There was no doubt Rangers played some excellent football in an attacking sense. On the ball, numerous players were brave and confident. Out of possession, the team worked hard to apply pressure all over the pitch. St Johnstone weren’t at their best, but this was about Rangers imposing themselves on the game rather than the opposition being poor. There were moments of slackness in defence, and things that will need to be improved upon. The focus should rightly be on the positives, though. If the team can take this sort of confidence into most matches, they’ll be hard to stop.
McGregor; Tavernier (Ejaria, 56), Goldson, Katic, Flanagan; McCrorie, Coulibaly (Dorrans, 63), Arfield; Candeias, Kent (Lafferty, 72), Morelos.
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Worrall, Halliday, Middleton.
Clark, Tanser, Alston, Shaughnessy, Wright (Swanson, 61), Wotherspoon, Kerr, Foster, Craig (Nydam, 57), Watt (Kane, 72), Kennedy.
SUBS: Mitchell, Anderson, McMillan, Callachan.