A brilliant strike from Ryan Jack secured a 1-0 win against Kilmarnock as Rangers took another step towards securing the title.
The win means Rangers now need just four victories to cross the line in the race for this season’s title – the defeat was Kilmarnock’s seventh straight loss in what was Tommy Wright’s first game in charge of Killie after being appointed earlier in the week.
Steven Gerrard named three changes to his side with Filip Helander, Bongani Zungu and Glen Kamara making way for Leon Balogun, Ryan Jack and Steven Davis.
Rangers were denied victory in injury-time last week at Hamilton in what was arguably the worst performance of the season so far. The margin of the win here was narrow, but the scoreline didn’t reflect accurately on the nature of the performance in a game which Rangers, despite not being at their fluent best, should have won in a more convincing manner.
Rangers started brightly and it looked like they had secured an early lead after James Tavernier finished neatly after being put through by Cedric Itten, only for the far-side linesman to put his flag up for offside.
Itten was then fouled after he turned Dikamona cleverly on the edge of the box. Ianis Hagi stepped up to take the resultant free-kick but fired just wide.
Rangers took the lead on 37 minutes after Steven Davis was fouled around 40 yards from goal. Tavernier’s delivery into the box from the free-kick created a scramble as Killie failed to clear the lines properly. The ball landed at Ryan Kent on the edge of the box who took a touch to control before firing an unstoppable volley into Colin Doyle’s top left-hand corner.
Ryan Kent then had a chance to double Rangers’ lead after a mistake from Zech Medley. The Arsenal loanee was under no pressure when he played the ball straight to Kent, who then ran at the Killie defence and fired a fierce shot which Doyle had to touch over the bar.
Rangers then had a strong penalty claim denied when Aribo played in Itten whose cut-back appeared to give Tavernier a chance to score only for McKenzie to bundle him to ground with an awkward channel. Referee Don Robertson waved away the appeals and the teams went in at half-time with just a goal between them.
Rangers should have doubled their lead straight from kick-off when Ryan Kent shot weakly at Doyle. The Englishman had done well to create the chance, but opted to shoot when there were better options available inside.
Kent then pulled a great save from Doyle after a nice ball from Aribo set him up with a shooting opportunity. Kent hit a great shot low and hard towards the bottom corner, but Doyle produced an impressive save to put the ball out for a corner.
Aribo and Itten both had chances to extend Rangers lead as they probed the Killie defence in search of the second goal which would have killed the game and secured the three points.
Steven Gerrard introduced new signing Scott Wright on 79 minutes, and the former Aberdeen man was involved as Rangers came close again, sending Tavernier free on the flank only for his attempt to pick out Kent in the box for a tap-in to be blocked.
Rangers then had a guilt-edged chance to get that elusive second goal. Steve Davis sent Rangers on the counter with a pass to Itten. Itten then put through Ryan Kent. Kent took Aaron McGowan out of the equation with a lovely change of direction which allowed him to set up Aribo for what seemed an easy opportunity to score, only for Aribo to take a poor touch and poke his effort wide off Doyle.
Kilmarnock then had a penalty claim denied when Balogun tangled with Danny Whitehall. Balogun undoubtedly fouled the Killie substitute, but replays confirmed that the contact happened outside the box.
With a few minutes remaining Steven Gerrard introduced Scott Arfield, making a return to action since picking up an ankle knock on Boxing Day against Hibs.
Steven Gerrard said after the game: "The players should be really excited now and embrace what's in front of them, go and be the best version of themselves.
"If they do, they have a wonderful opportunity to turn this season into a success. We are going to try and attack every game that's in front of us. We want to commit to every game, we've got the numbers in the squad and the quality to do it.
"My focus hasn't been too much on Antwerp up until now. I've watched a few games but I'm going to watch an awful lot more between now and Thursday.”
RANGERS: McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Barisic; Jack, Davis, Aribo, Kent, Itten, Hagi
SUBS: McLaughlin, Bassey, Helander, Arfield, Wright, Defoe, Patterson, Kamara, Stewart.
KILMARNOCK: Doyle, McGowan, Haunstrup, Dikamona, McKenzie, Dicker, Kiltie, Kabamba, Mulumbu, Medley, Tsibola
SUBS: Rogers, Oakley, Ibsen Rossi, Pierrick, Pinnock, Millen, Burke, Dabo, Whitehall.
REFEREE: Don Robertson
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