Ryan Jack made a scoring return to the Rangers first team today as the league leaders made another impressive statement on their title credentials with a 5-0 win over Ross County at Ibrox.
The win takes Rangers 23 points clear with 13 games to play. Celtic still have three games in hand, but even the most optimistic of their supporters must now be approaching the point of accepting that the required winning run to claw back the difference is beyond Neil Lennon’s side.
Steven Gerrard, taking charge of his 150th match as Rangers manager, named one change to the side which started last week at Fir Park with Filip Helander coming in for Leon Balogun. There was also a visible sign on the bench of the improving injury situation at Ibrox, where both Ryan Jack and Kemar Roofe were named.
It is widely accepted that Rangers have not been the in the free-flowing, high-scoring form that they displayed earlier in the season, with Ross County the last side to taka a battering from Steven Gerrard’s side in the 4-0 defeat in Dingwall in December. Today would be an even more chastening experience for the Staggies and recently appointed boss John Hughes, who went into the game today on the back of an impressive 4-1 win over Aberdeen last weekend.
However Rangers looked up from it from the start and scored after six minutes thanks to Ryan Kent. James Tavernier sent a cross into the box, Morelos nodded it back across the face of goal for Kent to loop his header over Ross Laidlaw to give Rangers the early lead they craved.
A couple of minutes later James Tavernier hit a free-kick just over the bar, giving Rangers the look of a side which wanted to get their business done early.
In the 12th minute it looked like Rangers would do exactly that when they were awarded a penalty after Morelos robbed Callum Morris to run in on goal, only to be fouled before he could get his shot away. James Tavernier stepped up, but his effort was saved by Laidlaw – Tavernier’s second successive miss from the spot.
Rangers continued to dominate possession and it didn’t take too much longer for them to double their lead, thanks to Filip Helander after 27 minutes. Borna Barisic sent in another great corner, Helander lost his man and rose to bullet home from just outside the six yard box.
Barisic was involved again shortly after when he hit a free-kick which Laidlaw needed two attempts to gather.
Then came the moment of the match from Joe Aribo. The Nigerian cut inside the box, beat Charlie Lakin and Connor Randall before curling a fantastic strike into the top corner, leaving Laidlaw helpless and all but confirming the three points for Rangers.
Ianis Hagi was having an impressive game and had a couple of opportunities towards the end of the first-half. Firstly he hit a shot from just outside the area which flew narrowly over the bar. Then he was played in by Ryan Kent, but took a touch too many which allowed Morris the time he needed to block the Romanian's effort.
As the teams went up the tunnel for half-time you would have been forgiven for suggesting the second-half was an effort in futility, however Ross County provided a reminder that there was still plenty to play for when Harry Paton struck the post seconds after the restart.
The near miss provoked a response from Rangers with Alfredo Morelos coming close after a great turn and shot, then Ryan Kent came close with another header.
Ross County struck the woodwork again after a header from Alex Iacovitti looped over Allan McGregor and hit the bar. Morelos then had another effort from outside the box go just wide.
Joe Aribo then came really close to adding another outrageous act to his superb first-half goal when he audaciously flicked on a Tavernier corner, forcing a save from Laidlaw.
Steven Gerrard then made four substitutions, including Ryan Jack who came on with Bongani Zungu, Jermain Defoe and Cedric Itten, in place of Steven Davis, Glen Kamara, Joe Aribo and Alfredo Morelos.
It didn't take Jack long to make an impact with a goal four minutes after being introduced to proceedings. Jack started the move, playing a ball to Cedric Itten who laid the ball out wide to Hagi. Hagi sent the ball across the face of goal for Jack to come in and hammer home the fourth.
Jack came close to scoring again after Nathan Patterson, who had replaced James Tavernier, played a ball to him on the edge of the box. Jack’s right foot shot looked like it was goal-bound until Laidlaw got a hand to it to put it wide.
The fifth came with ten minutes to go thanks to Connor Goldson. Barisic sent in yet another great corner for Goldson to send it past Laidlaw with a well-placed header, which dinked off the post on its way in.
Steven Gerrard was delighted with performance saying: “There's no such thing as a perfect performance for a manager, you're always looking for little things to improve on.
“But we asked the players for a 90 minute performance and they delivered that today. We looked dangerous from start to finish.
“We played with real urgency. We did all the right things and in possession we played some lovely football.”
RANGERS: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Helander, Barisic, Kamara, Davis, Aribo, Kent, Hagi, Morelos.
SUBS: McLaughlin, Bassey, Balogun, Defoe, Itten, Zungu, Patterson, Roofe, Jack.
ROSS COUNTY: Laidlaw, Randall, Hjelde, Morris, Iacovitti, Naismith, Lakin, Paton, Draper, Vigurs, Shaw.
SUBS: Gardyne, Mckay, Hylton, Watson, Charles-Cooke, Tillson, Donaldson, Andreu, Munro.
REFEREE: Euan Anderson
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