Goals from Ryan Kent, Alfredo Morelos and Ianis Hagi ensured a 3-0 win against St Mirren which has all but secured the SPFL title for Steven Gerrard and Rangers – the club’s first top flight title since 2011.
If Celtic fail to win at Tannadice on Sunday then Rangers will be officially confirmed as the new champions of Scotland. The reality, however, is that Rangers are on a points total which Celtic can only match if they win all their remaining games and Rangers lose all theirs – and even if such an unlikely scenario plays out, Celtic still have to turnaround a goal difference deficit of 26.
Let nobody tell you otherwise – Rangers are the champions of Scotland.
The importance of that achievement was reflected by the huge numbers who gathered outside Ibrox this morning, defying the current lockdown rules in doing so.
Fans started gathering from the early hours and by the time manager Steven Gerrard and his players arrived at the stadium they were left in no doubt of what this title means to supporters, with flags, scarves and flares filling the skyline on Edmiston Drive. It was a show of emotion almost ten years in the making – but you suspect it will lead to negative headlines for the supporters and the club, with the Scottish Government quick to issue a statement condemning the gathering.
Such issues are not within Steven Gerrard’s remit and he focused on making sure his players were ready for the challenge of St Mirren, making one change to the team which won at Livingstone on Wednesday night with Ianis Hagi coming in at the expense of Scott Arfield. Gerrard would take in the game from the Directors Box having accepted a one match ban for his sending off on Wednesday night at Livingston.
St Mirren remain the only side to beat Rangers this season and arrived at Ibrox having lost only two of their last ten away games. But Rangers took control early on in proceedings with Joe Aribo having a powerful strike at goal from outside the box which Alnwick gathered comfortably.
Rangers took the lead after 13 minutes after some impressive stuff from Gerrard’s side led to Ryan Kent collecting the ball outside the box. The winger shaped to his right foot, then switched to his left before firing the ball into the bottom corner of Alnwick’s goal with the former Rangers man rooted to the spot.
Rangers doubled their lead just two minutes later when Ianis Hagi played a nice ball to Kamara, who sent Morelos through with a brilliantly weighted pass which allowed the Columbian to swivel and hit his shot beyond Alnwick to secure his fourth goal in as many games.
Rangers looked like they were seriously in the mood at this point but were reminded of the threat of St Mirren on 33 minutes when Dylan Connolly burst through on goal but dragged his shot wide.
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Connor Goldson then came close to making it three seven minutes before the break. The big defender has been a constant threat at set-pieces this season and he got on the end of a Borna Barisic free-kick, only to loop his header just past the post.
Rangers finished the game as a competition within seconds after the restart through a well worked goal which Ianis Hagi finished off.
Ryan Kent and Joe Aribo had a great one-two down the left flank which put Kent clear. His low cross was received by Hagi who had time to take a touch and before sending Alnwick the wrong way.
Ryan Kent then had a shot from distance which bounced awkwardly in front of Jak Alnwick, forcing him to unconventionally kick the ball over the bar for a corner.
Steven Gerrard then made the first of a few changes, introducing Leon Balogun and Scott Arfield for Helander and Davis.
Allan McGregor has been a vital component for the success of Rangers this season, and he provided another reminder of his importance when he saved brilliantly from Jonathan Obika who had attempted to deftly guide a shot into the corner of the net.
Gerrard introduced Jermain Defoe, Scott Wright and Greg Stewart in the closing stages and Stewart and Defoe came close to securing the fourth on a couple of occasions, with Stewart setting up Defoe for a shot at goal which Alnwick blocked, then nearly repeating the move only for Shaughnessy to cut out Stewart’s cross as Defoe looked set for a tap-in.
Scott Arfield had the game’s final chance when he fired a shot which Alnwick tipped over the bar.
The final whistle brought scenes of joy and a sense that, although not totally official yet, Rangers are over the line and are champions in all but name. The feeling that this was a defining moment was cemented when the players made their way to the blue gates between the Copland Road and Bill Struth stands to acknowledge the fans gathered outside on Edmiston Drive.
An emotional Steven Gerrard said afterwards: "It was a really good performance, really mature, really controlled.
"Coming into the stadium there were a lot of fans about and that can take you to an emotional place, and you can take your eye off the ball, but credit to the players, they stuck to the plan.
"We were deserved winners, had more chances to score more, but were in control from start to finish, score three wonderful goals, and thoroughly deserved our victory.
"In terms of the league at home we've been perfect. Not every performance has been perfect, but it has in terms of results. The players deserve a lot of credit for keeping their focus and trying to stay humble.
"There is still a lot to play for, the league is all but done but we will try to finish the season as strong as we can until the end, there will be no letting up. It's my job to make sure the players are ready for every game."
RANGERS: McGregor; Patterson, Goldson, Helander, Barisic; Kamara, Davis, Aribo; Hagi, Morelos, Kent
SUBS: McLaughlin, Bassey, Simpson, Defoe, Itten, Wright, Stewart, Balogun, Arfield
ST MIRREN: Alnwick, Tait, Shaughnessy, McCarthy, Fraser, Erhahon, Doyle-Hayes, Durmus, McGrath, Connolly, Quaner.
SUBS: Lyness, Flynn, Reid, MacPherson, Henderson, McAllister, Jamieson, Erwin, Obika.
REFEREE: Steven McLean
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