Rangers extend lead at the top after Ianis Hagi scores only goal against St Johnstone

Ianis Hagi — Rangers extend lead at the top after Ianis Hagi scores only goal against St Johnstone - GETTY IMAGES
Ianis Hagi — Rangers extend lead at the top after Ianis Hagi scores only goal against St Johnstone – GETTY IMAGES

Rangers 1 St Johnstone 0

Rangers took another stride towards the near-certainty of their first title in 10 years with a merited but hard worked victory over St Johnstone at Ibrox where the sides were separated by a single goal, scored by Ianis Hagi in the 52nd minute. The runaway league leaders controlled swathes of possession and, had others shown the composure demonstrated by Hagi when he delivered the match winner, Rangers would have had the win stowed away long before the final whistle.

For St Johnstone, this was yet another demanding fixture in an eventful passage which has seen them beat Hibernian to reach the Scottish League Cup final, to meet Livingston, who are their opponents at the Tony Macaroni Arena on Saturday. Between times they secured a goalless draw with Aberdeen at Pittodrie and at the weekend their 3-2 win at Rugby Park cost Alex Dyer his job as Kilmarnock manager.

Callum Davidson, Saints’ manager, revealed his game plan shortly before kick-off when he said: “It’s really important we don’t allow an early goal and we frustrate them a little bit. Rangers are so clinical that, if you give them opportunities, they will score.

“If you can frustrate Rangers for the first 30-40 minutes, you give yourself a platform and opportunity to get something from the game.”

Steven Gerrard, meanwhile, replaced the suspended Alfredo Morelos, with Kemar Roofe while Ianis Hagi came in for Glen Kamara.

The first thrust came from Saints when Steve May sent a cutback across the Rangers box but found no takers for the touch which would have brought the opening goal and for the rest of the half traffic flowed almost exclusively to the other end of the field. Rangers began their procession of chances when a Connor Goldson cross was knocked down by Joe Aribo for Ryan Kent to take a touch and shoot from eight yards.

What had seemed to be a sure goal, however, was screwed well wide of the post in uncharacteristic fashion for Kent. Almost immediately, Hagi just failed to make contact with a James Tavernier free kick a yard out from goal.

Craig Bryson broke Rangers’ near-monopoly of opportunities when he shot against Alan McGregor’s foot after May had disrupted the home defence in a rare display of aggression, but Zander Clark remained far the busier goalkeeper although he would have been helpless had Roofe made proper contact with a swipe at a chip from Aribo which pushed his effort yards wide of the mark.

Roofe, mind you, was lucky to have avoided dismissal for an ugly studs-up challenge on Murray Davidson which was judged worth no more than a yellow card by the referee. Rangers’ unusual profligacy continued when Goldson met another beckoning delivery from Tavernier with an outstretched leg which diverted the ball to the wrong side of the post, before Roofe extended his mis-hits with a header well off the mark just before the half-time whistle signalled the success of the first part of Saints’ strategy.

Their satisfaction lasted only six minutes into the second half, at which stage Hagi scored a bravura goal when he ran along the edge of the Perth box then swivelled to strike a grounder from his left foot just inside Clark’s post.

St Johnstone’s response was a double change, with May and James Brown replaced by Chris Kane and Shaun Rooney and the consequent surge of positive energy saw McGregor make two big saves from Craig Bryson. The visitors remained intermittently troublesome until the end of the contest, but Rangers are now 23 points ahead of Celtic with only 11 games left for Gerrard and his squad.

Match details

Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Helander, Barisic; Davis, Jack, Aribo; Hagi (Kamara, 80), Roofe (Itten, 66), Kent.
Substitutes not used: McLaughlin (g), Bassey, Wright, Zungu, Patterson, Stewart, Balogun.
Booked: Roofe.
St Johnstone (3-4-3): Clark; Kerr, Gordon, McCart; Brown (Rooney, 67), Davidson (Craig 34), McCann, Tanser; Conway, Bryson, May (Kane, 67).
Booked: Kane.
Substitutes not used: Parish (g), Booth, O’Halloran, Melamed, Gilmour.
Referee: David Munro.

Originally published

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