Rangers are effectively just four wins away from confirming their return to the top flight of Scottish football after maintaining their currently impressive momentum with victory over Morton last night.
Mark Warburton’s side recovered from falling behind to on-loan Birmingham City striker Denny Johnstone’s opener against the run of play for Jim Duffy’s men, to eventually run out convincing and worthy winners.
Two goals from veteran striker Kenny Miller, taking his tally for the season to 15, and a ninth goal of the campaign from left-back and captain Lee Wallace, stretched Rangers’ unbeaten run to 15 games in all competitions.
They are now 15 points clear of Falkirk at the top of the Championship table and a further two ahead of Hibs. Another 12 points from their remaining eight league games would take them across the finishing line. The title and automatic promotion could be wrapped up well before they turn their attention to the Old Firm Scottish Cup semi-final on 17 April.
Given that they had already held Rangers to a 2-2 draw at Ibrox earlier this season, Morton’s 22nd-minute opener perhaps shouldn’t have come as a huge shock to the home fans.
But it was difficult for them to credit on the basis of Rangers’ dominant start to the match which had suggested this would be a long and testing night for the visitors.
Harry Forrester appeared eager to maintain his prolific run of scoring form and he took just three minutes to call Derek Gaston into action as the Morton keeper held his well struck 20-yard shot.
Passing the ball with pace and precision, Rangers then carved open the Morton defence with some sharp work involving Miller, Barrie McKay and the overlapping Wallace, whose cutback was glanced just wide from close range by Jason Holt.
Morton had little choice but to defend grimly and resolutely at this stage, something Mark Russell did effectively when he blocked a Forrester shot after excellent build-up play from McKay.
Thomas O’Ware was equally diligent as he stretched to divert a Miller shot over the crossbar as the flow of play continued in one direction.
But that altered dramatically when Morton scored with what was effectively their first venture of any note into the Rangers half. Bobby Barr, whose pace and trickery would prove troubling for Rangers right-back James Tavernier, created the opening as he cut in from the left.
Barr’s swerving shot from around 22 yards was parried by Wes Foderingham but only as far as Johnstone who controlled the loose ball and forced it home for his 12th goal of the season.
It knocked Rangers temporarily out of their stride, while Morton grew in confidence and ambition. Foderingham had to produce a decent save to prevent Ross Forbes doubling the visitors’ lead with a dipping free-kick from 25 yards.
Just as frustration was beginning to take hold both in the stands and on the pitch for Rangers, they equalised two minutes before the interval. With all of their elaborate earlier work having come to nothing, the goal was simplicity itself as Miller rose at the near post to powerfully head Tavernier’s right-wing corner beyond Gaston.
Rangers made a change at the start of the second half, Dean Shiels replacing Forrester who looked to have suffered a knee injury in the latter stages of the opening period.
There was a renewed urgency from Warburton’s side as they looked to assert their authority on proceedings, something they did emphatically with two goals within 11 minutes of the resumption.
Miller put them ahead in the 48th minute when, receiving a pass from Holt after McKay had cut in from the left to put the Morton defence on the back foot, he swept a left-foot shot beyond Gaston from around 14 yards.
Johnstone threatened an immediate response for Morton when his curling shot from 20 yards produced a fine diving save from Foderingham.
But Rangers had the bit firmly between their teeth now, and made it 3-1 in the 56th minute. McKay was the provider as he again found space on the left before squaring the ball to Wallace who took a touch before driving a left-foot shot high beyond Gaston’s right hand from the edge of the penalty area.
Miller was denied his
hat-trick by the offside flag when he turned the ball home from close range after an effort from Shiels struck the crossbar but both he and Rangers could be content with their night’s work.
Referee: N Walsh
RANGERS: Foderingham, Tavernier, Ball, Wilson, Wallace; Holt, Halliday, Forrester (Shiels 46); O’Halloran (King 66), Miller (Clark 77), McKay. Subs not used: Bell, Law, Burt, Thomson.
MORTON: Gaston, Miller, Kilday, O’Ware, Russell; McCluskey, Barr, Forbes (Tennent 90), McKee, McCluskey; McManus (MacDonald 85), Johnstone (McMullan 77). Subs not used: McNeil, Lamie, Scullion.