With a double-header against Celtic just around the corner, this game had the potential to be a real banana skin for Rangers in their attempt to stay on the coat-tails of Aberdeen in the race for second. Instead, it could scarcely have been any more straightforward for Pedro Caixinha’s men, who racked up a third successive clean sheet without much of a fight from the away side.
It was an uncharacteristically poor display by Thistle. A week after confirming their top-six place, the visitors brought with them a strong away crowd eager to see their side win at Ibrox for the first time since 1981. Alan Archibald’s men went into the match on an eight-game unbeaten Premiership run and had accrued three more points than their hosts in 2017, but there was little evidence of that form on display at Ibrox.
As soon as Kenny Miller opened the scoring there was only going to be one winner as Rangers build up a little bit of momentum going into next weekend’s Scottish Cup semi-final with their arch-rivals.
“I didn’t like our first 30 minutes,” said Caixinha. “But it got better in the final 15 minutes and the first 20 minutes of the second half were exactly what we wanted to see.
“I’m not totally happy with our defensive performance. Usually you would say it’s good we’ve got three clean sheets, but I know we have to improve a lot as a team. I want more.
“This team is always ready to beat anyone, and Celtic is up next. The history of this team is about winning, so we need to be ready. I hope to have 11 warriors starting the game.”
Thistle did indeed have more of the play in the opening 30 minutes but never looked like doing anything with it, and once Rangers moved themselves up a gear it quickly became one-way traffic.
Young left-back Myles Beerman had the first two sights at goal, twice shooting from distance, his efforts deflected wide for a corner.
Mustapha Dumbuya then cleared Jon Toral’s low drive off the goal-line as Rangers forced a succession of corners. From another set-piece delivery Danny Wilson threw himself at Barrie McKay’s cross, his header terrifically saved by Tomas Cerny. The Thistle keeper had to show quick reactions again 30 seconds later, springing off his line to clear a Miller cross that would have presented Martyn Waghorn with a tap-in.
Thistle couldn’t ride out the storm and found their hopes sinking when Miller headed the hosts in front. Having peeled off his man at the back post, the veteran striker demonstrated his years of experience to head James Tavernier’s delivery down into the ground and back across goal. Cerny, with his momentum working against him, could only watch the ball bounce in.
Having begun to show some fluidity in their play, Rangers almost chucked away the advantage just before half-time. Sloppy defending allowed Ryan Edwards space on the right of the penalty area where he forced a close-range stop from Wes Foderingham.
Miller lashed a shot from 20 yards wide of goal at the beginning of the second half and it wouldn’t be long before the hosts killed the game off. January loanees Emerson Hyndman and Toral combined superbly, moving the ball from the touchline to the centre of the box with a pair of one-twos, culminating in Hyndman flicking the ball for Toral to slot past Cerny.
It then became a battle of Rangers’ desire to score more goals against Cerny’s will to stop them. The Czech keeper reinforced his reputation as one of the country’s premier custodians, making two terrific low saves to his left to deny Waghorn and Miller in the space of six minutes. The away side would force a couple of chances late on, substitutes Kevin Nesbitt and Chris Erskine each trying their luck from inside the area, before Cerny pulled off another remarkable stop to deny Joe Garner. The striker was offside, but Cerny wasn’t to know that when he pushed his point-blank shot over the bar.
Despite the lacklustre performance, the majority of Thistle’s fans stayed until the end, singing their players off the park as they refused to let this result put a dampener on a thoroughly enjoyable year so far.
“There were two positives today,” said manager Alan Archibald. “The supporters and the performance of Tomas Cerny.”