Murty 3, McInnes 0. Any Rangers fans still nursing a sense of disappointment at the outcome of their club’s pursuit of a new manager last month will certainly have come to terms with it by now.
Graeme Murty racked up his third consecutive victory as Rangers manager over Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen, guiding the Ibrox men back into second place in the Premiership in the process.
It was a fully merited success for the hosts, earned through Alfredo Morelos’ 13th goal of the season and a late James Tavernier penalty. For McInnes, who rejected the chance to manage Rangers, it was another underwhelming display from his team who only came to life after falling 2-0 behind.
Both of these teams are now 11 points behind champions and odds-on title favourites Celtic but it is Murty’s side who appear to carrying the greater momentum after the winter break.
Rangers were the more progressive and adventurous side from the start as they sought to carry the momentum of their morale-boosting performance in the goalless draw at Celtic Park at the end of December into the resumption of their Premiership campaign.
Three of their January signings - Russell Martin, Sean Goss and Jamie Murphy - made their debuts in the starting line-up, while Cummings had to be content with a place on the bench.
Murphy was quickly involved in the action, earning warm applause from the home fans when he combined with Declan John on the left to set up the first chance of the match for Josh Windass who dragged his shot wide.
Windass came much closer in the 12th minute. Aberdeen were unable to clear a Murphy corner, allowing Martin to lay the ball back into the path of Windass on the edge of the penalty area. His low shot took a deflection before rebounding kindly off the post into the grateful clutches of Joe Lewis.
The Aberdeen keeper should have been beaten eight minutes later. Jason Holt, captain of Rangers for the evening, found Daniel Candeias on the right and the winger’s cross picked out Morelos at the far post. On this occasion, the striker sent his header wastefully wide.
Kenny McLean was the most prominent attacking threat for Aberdeen. The midfielder, loaned back to the Dons after the completion of his move to Norwich City this week, made a surging run which set up a glorious opening for Gary Mackay-Steven in the 28th minute but the winger’s low drive was too close to Wes Foderingham who made a fine save.
It was a significant contribution from the Rangers ‘keeper as his side made the breakthrough four minutes later. Lewis could only punch out a Candeias cross from the right, the ball retrieved by the Portuguese winger who shifted it to James Tavernier. His first time cross found Morelos who this time made no mistake with a firm and precise close range header.
Rangers’ celebrations had barely subsided when Aberdeen should have equalised, McLean unable to get enough purchase on a free shot at goal which was saved by Foderingham.
It was the start of a better spell for the visitors but it was Rangers who came closer to adding to their tally before the interval. When Andrew Considine was booked for a cynical foul on Windass, the resultant free-kick from Candeias was headed on by Windass and glanced narrowly wide from around six yards out by Tavernier.
Rangers were immediately back on the front foot at the start of the second half and only a tremendous save from Lewis prevented Morelos from doubling the lead in the 49th minute. John burst clear down the left and fed Morelos who turned sharply to unleash a low shot which appeared destined for the corner of the net until Lewis got down to divert it wide.
Aberdeen defender Scott McKenna, being watched in person by Hull City manager Nigel Adkins who is clearly not prepared to drop his interest in the player, was struggling to contain Morelos and earned a booking for a clumsy foul on the front man.
For all Rangers were in the ascendancy, they craved the comfort of a second goal and Morelos passed up another chance to provide it when he stabbed the ball wide from close range after Lewis had flapped at a John cross.
McInnes attempted to inject some invention and urgency into his side, replacing Greg Stewart with Niall McGinn and the Northern Ireland winger flashed a volley just off target to provide some encouragement for the visiting fans.
But Rangers were soon back in control, Morelos replaced by Cummings to bring fresh impetus into their attack for the closing 20 minutes. They effectively secured all three points with the penalty kick painfully conceded by Lewis. The keeper came off worse in more ways than one as he hurt himself in fouling Windass just outside his six yard area.
After lengthy treatment, Lewis left the field on a stretcher. Despite the delay, Tavernier was unfazed as he sent substitute keeper Danny Rogers the wrong way as he confidently converted from the spot.
Aberdeen were finally provoked into a spell of sustained attacking play, Foderingham producing stunning saves to deny Adam Rooney and Anthony O’Connor, but it was too late in the day for McInnes’ men.
RANGERS: Foderingham, Tavernier, Bates, Martin, John; Holt, Goss; Candeias (Cardoso 90+3), Windass (Halliday 89), Murphy; Morelos (Cummings 70). Subs not used: Alnwick, Herrera, Hodson, Kranjcar.
ABERDEEN: Lewis (Rogers 80), Logan, McKenna, O’Connor, Considine; Shinnie, McLean; Stewart (McGinn 59), Christie, Mackay-Steven (Ball 75); Rooney. Subs not used: Reynolds, Arnason, Wright, Maynard.