Momentum and consistency continue to prove painfully elusive for Rangers whose bid to record three consecutive Premiership victories for the first time this season was thwarted by an impressively street-wise St Johnstone side.
Even the most wildly optimistic supporters of the Ibrox outfit can no longer be labouring under the notion Mark Warburton’s side are capable of mounting a serious title challenge in their first season back in the top flight.
A share of the spoils was the least Tommy Wright’s team deserved from this encounter as they saw Blair Alston’s stunning early opener cancelled out by Joe Garner before the interval.
The Perth men, who remain above fifth-placed Rangers in the Premiership table, created the clearer chances to go on and win the game in the second half. But while what would have been their first league win at Ibrox side 1971 eluded them, they can take satisfaction from a valuable point which takes them into third spot.
For Rangers, greeted by a chorus of jeers at the final whistle, it was a performance and result which did little to back up Warburton’s confidence that progress is being made.
Wright, forced to make a late change to his line-up when Murray Davidson suffered an injury in the warm-up and was replaced by Chris Millar, continually impresses with his ability to draw the maximum from the resources at his disposal.
The recruitment of Alston from Falkirk in the summer is proving to be yet another shrewd acquisition for the Saints boss and the midfielder’s first goal for the club was of the exceptional variety.
He was aided by some slipshod work from Rangers right-back Lee Hodson who gifted possession to the visitors while under no great pressure. Alston seized the opportunity, shifting the ball onto his right foot and bending an unstoppable shot high beyond Wes Foderingham’s left hand into the corner of the net from around 20 yards.
It was a shock to the system for Rangers who had started brightly enough themselves with the recalled Harry Forrester forcing a smart save from Zander Clark, then delivering the subsequent corner which saw Clint Hill head just wide.
It took the hosts some time to recover their composure after Alston’s strike but Clark was forced into action again when he diverted a Lee Wallace shot wide after the Rangers captain had been played in by a smart Josh Windass pass.
It sparked a spell of territorial dominance from Rangers, albeit Saints appeared relatively happy to invite them on at this stage and protect their early advantage. They always carried a threat on the counter-attack, however, and Chris Kane might have done better than drag a show wide of Foderingham’s right hand post after more careless play at the back from Rangers.
Jason Holt, who was unable to convert the clearest of the few openings Rangers created in Sunday’s League Cup semi-final defeat, passed up a similar chance here when he timed his run into the penalty area perfectly to meet Michael O’Halloran’s cutback but drove his shot straight at Clark.
Just as frustration was setting in for Warburton’s men, they found an equaliser eight minutes before the interval. Saints were furious at the award of the corner-kick from which it came with Millar booked for his protests that O’Halloran had touched the ball last before it went out of play.
Forrester took the corner from the right, his delivery met by a firm header from Garner, which left Clark helpless.
Windass forced Clark into a fine save from a stinging drive just before half-time as Rangers tried to seize the initiative but there was still no real sense they were capable of taking firm control of proceedings.
In a fractious start to the second half, which saw Garner and Liam Craig both booked for squaring up to each other after the Rangers striker had fouled the Saints midfielder, Wright’s men appeared just as likely to double their tally.
Danny Swanson threatened with a couple of decent efforts from distance as Rangers were forced onto the back foot far more often than their increasingly anxious support wished to see. Their discomfort continued when Kane was left unattended to fire in a low shot which the scrambling Foderingham eventually gathered.
Rangers sent on Kenny Miller for the tiring Windass in a bid to find some fresh attacking impetus. In the 74th minute, they finally forced Clark into his first serious contribution of the second half when the Saints ‘keeper reacted well to touch a Garner header over the top.
But Saints were soon carrying greater threat at the other end again with Alston unfortunate not to claim his second goal of the night when his shot smacked back off Foderingham’s left-hand post.
Miller saw a shot cleared off the line by Saints sub David Wotherspoon a minute from time but victory would have flattered Rangers.