Rangers hit another bump on the road as the steady momentum they had built up recently stalled in Perth.
Mark Warburton’s side had their hopes of a fifth successive Premiership victory thwarted by a St Johnstone side they have yet to overcome in three attempts under the Englishman’s guidance.
Rangers have now dropped 15 points from their ten away fixtures in the league this season, a telling statistic on their return to the top flight, in which they now trail champions Celtic by 16 points at the top of the table, having played a game more.
Their lead over third-placed Aberdeen is now five points, the Pittodrie men also having played one match less.
Barrie McKay looked to have laid the platform for Rangers to secure another confidence-boosting win ahead of Saturday’s Old Firm showdown at Ibrox when he put them ahead, but a defensive blunder by Rob Kiernan allowed Steven MacLean to draw Saints level before half-time.
Warburton would have been exasperated by his team’s failure to convert their first-half superiority into a commanding lead, their good work undone by Kiernan’s error.
Deprived of captain Lee Wallace because of injury, Rangers went with a three-man central defence in which Kiernan played alongside Clint Hill and Danny Wilson. It also proved to be a worrying night for Hill, the veteran stopper limping off in the second half with an injury which places his participation against Celtic in doubt.
Rangers had started brightly, hitting their stride with some sharp and cohesive play in which McKay and Josh Windass were especially prominent. It was Windass who produced the first attempt at goal, exchanging passes with Kenny Miller before dragging a shot narrowly wide of Zander Clark’s right-hand post.
Joe Garner, receiving his now customary and endlessly repetitive serenade from the visiting support, was next to find a threatening position but his header from Andy Halliday’s cross was tame and comfortably gathered by Clark.
The Saints goalkeeper was far more seriously tested in the 14th minute when Miller burst into the penalty area and drove in a powerful right-foot shot from a tight angle. Clark reacted superbly to keep the ball out with a one-handed, diving save.
Rangers came even closer four minutes later when the home side were unable to properly clear a McKay corner. The winger regained possession and fed James Tavernier whose dipping right-foot shot from 20 yards smacked back off the crossbar with Clark well beaten.
McKay flashed a shot over the bar from the edge of the penalty area before Rangers finally made their pressure count with the 23rd minute opener. It came as they countered from a rare Saints attack and found Garner just inside the penalty area. His shot was parried by Clark, the ball breaking to McKay who showed composure to steady himself and finish neatly from the left corner of the six-yard box.
Wright’s men were in need of a quick response and they found it with the unwitting assistance of Kiernan five minutes later. The big defender was under no pressure as he received a pass from Wes Foderingham but in opting to return the ball directly to the goalkeeper, he badly underhit it.
MacLean was alive to the opportunity, sliding in to secure possession before Foderingham and then coolly rolling the ball beyond the exposed keeper into the net.
The setback visibly rattled Rangers who struggled to regain their earlier rhythm. Saints, who changed their shape midway through the first half to match up to the 3-5-2 system being deployed by Warburton, were far more confident and purposeful.
Play also became more fractious, Holt collecting the first booking of the evening for a rash challenge, while Kiernan was fortunate an off the ball altercation with Steven Anderson was not spotted by the officials.
Saints, who made their first change of the night just before the interval when Tam Scobbie replaced Blair Alston, now looked just as likely as Rangers to claim the next goal.
Windass saw a shot deflected narrowly wide off Chris Millar in the 56th minute, but the home side enjoyed a far greater share of possession in the second half. Rangers appeared vulnerable to cross balls and Graham Cummins went close with a powerful header as he got on the end of Joe Shaughnessy’s cross.
Garner was replaced by Martyn Waghorn as Rangers sought fresh impetus in attack and the substitute caused anxiety in the Saints defence when he cut in from the right and dragged a shot just wide of Clark’s right-hand post.
Waghorn came close again in stoppage time with a shot which rippled the outside of Clark’s net but Saints were well worth their point in the end as they consolidate what already appears certain to be another top-six campaign.