League tables are barely worthy of scrutiny at this stage of a season but Rangers supporters may well indulge themselves in a lengthy look at the Premiership standings this evening.
For the first time since December 2011, the Ibrox club sit above Celtic in the top flight after first half goals from Alfredo Morelos and Connor Goldson secured Steven Gerrard his first league victory as manager.
There is much work ahead of Gerrard if he is to oversee the kind of sustained challenge to Celtic’s dominance which has been absent since Rangers’ financial collapse in 2012.
But the former Liverpool and England captain appears to be laying the kind of solid foundations upon which the regular pursuit of domestic silverware can be built.
For the second successive Sunday, his team had to dig out a result with just 10 men. They were already 2-0 up when Ross McCrorie was sent off for denying St Mirren a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
For the remaining hour or so of the afternoon, Rangers were largely untroubled by Alan Stubbs’ side and there was never any serious threat of surrendering the winning position they had forged.
The value of Rangers’ success in appealing against Morelos’ dismissal against Aberdeen at Pittodrie seven days earlier, reprieving him from a suspension which would have seen him miss this game, was soon evident.
Even before his 14th minute opener, the Colombian striker was a source of anxiety for the St Mirren back line. With just four minutes on the clock, Morelos came close when he found space behind central defenders Jack Baird and Cole Kpekawa to latch onto a through ball from Goldson and flashed a first time shot just wide of Craig Samson’s right hand post.
The visitors’ intention was not necessarily simply to sit in and try to soak up pressure. They looked to counter at pace whenever possible as evidenced when Cammy Smith dragged a shot beyond Allan McGregor’s right hand post.
But they were very much forced onto the back foot for most of the opening half hour in which Rangers established a dominant position in the contest.
Borna Barisic, making his debut following his £1.5 million move from Osijek, was quick to catch the eye for Gerrard’s side and the Croatian left-back linked up sharply with Morelos to set up a chance for Ryan Kent who could only guide a shot straight at Samson.
But the Saints ‘keeper had no answer to Rangers’ breakthrough which saw hesitancy from Baird punished to the full. Jamie Murphy seized upon the error from the Saints’ defender, securing possession just outside the penalty area and threading a pass to Morelos. The striker’s right-foot stabbed effort beat Samson low to his right.
Rangers doubled their lead 10 minutes later and it was a landmark moment for Goldson. The big defender had been handed the captain’s armband for the day, with club skipper James Tavernier rested on the bench, and marked the occasion with his first goal for Rangers.
Goldson was picked out by a well delivered free-kick on the right from the talented left foot of Barisic and he provided the finish it deserved, steering a header beyond Samson.
At this stage, Rangers appeared to be in cruise control but they were jolted by the dismissal of McCrorie in the 31st minute. Nicolai Brock-Madsen, the Danish striker signed by Saints on loan from Birmingham City last week, was sent free on goal by Stephen McGinn’s pass.
Before he could test McGregor, the big front man was floored by McCrorie’s lunging challenge just outside the penalty area. Referee Don Robertson had no hesitation in reaching for his top pocket and producing the red card for a crestfallen McCrorie.
Hayden Coulson slammed the free-kick into the Rangers defensive wall as St Mirren set about trying to make their numerical superiority count. But it was the hosts who came close to a third goal before half-time when Goldson’s header from a Ryan Kent corner struck Samson’s right hand post with the ‘keeper well beaten.
Rangers appeared relatively comfortable despite being short-handed, although Saints almost pulled one back three minutes before the interval when Danny Mullen’s shot clipped the top of McGregor’s crossbar.
Stubbs’ men enjoyed a greater share of possession in the opening phase of the second half, without being able to carve out any clear-cut chances. Rangers still looked the more threatening side and Morelos should have done better than blaze a shot off target in the 59th minute after being set up by smart play from Kent.
Mullen was as lively as anyone in the Saints’ side and McGregor was finally forced into a save, albeit a relatively comfortable one, when he clutched the former Livingston forward’s low drive.
Samson remained busier, keeping out efforts from Morelos and Ovie Ejaria, as Rangers saw the game out.
They finished it with just nine men on the pitch as, with all of their substitutions having been used up, Lassana Coulibaly limped off in stoppage time. The Mali international midfielder’s condition will be a concern for Gerrard ahead of Thursday’s Europa League assignment in Maribor but, overall, this was a day which provided him with further encouragement about his team’s prospects this season.
RANGERS: McGregor, Flanagan, Goldson, Katic, Barisic (Tavernier 63); Ejaria, McCrorie, Coulibaly; Kent (Halliday 69), Morelos (Sadiq 78), Murphy. Subs not used: Foderingham, Candeias, Hodson, Middleton.
ST MIRREN: Samson, McGinn, Baird, Kpekawa, Coulson; McGinn, Magennis, Willock (McShane 75), Smith; Mullen, Brock-Madsen (Flynn 69). Subs not used: Rogers, Heaton, Cooke, King, MacPherson.