Steven Gerrard had challenged his side to continue rectifying matters on the domestic front following an underwhelming start in terms of points gathered. This ruthless treatment of St Johnstone was further proof Rangers are clicking into gear.
James Tavernier clearly felt it was incumbent on him to lead the charge. The skipper was inspirational in the time he was on, scoring the first goal with a 20-yard free-kick after nine minutes and playing a part in the second, claimed by Alfredo Morelos.
Tavernier has clearly not interpreted Gerrard’s observation that Andy Halliday is the unofficial skipper at Ibrox as a slight on him, and rightly so.
Tavernier was at his best here, lapping up the applause of the home fans as he relished being allowed to play in the forward area of the pitch he prefers. He was taken off ten minutes into the second-half after Scott Arfield had scored Rangers’ third to make the points safe.
The Ibrox side are now second in the league, one point ahead of Celtic after being four adrift of their rivals following a 1-0 loss at the beginning of this month.
This was when statistics were being bandied about as evidence that Gerrard had overseen Rangers’ worst league start for nearly 30 years. The Ibrox side are now second after posting their latest statement of intent – a 5-1 win courtesy of five different scorers. Kyle Lafferty added a fourth shortly after replacing Ryan Kent, pictured, who did everything else apart from score. Daniel Candeias wrapped things up with the fifth.
Another Ibrox assignment, another powerful performance producing a winning margin of four goals. The only blight was a penalty dispatched with ferocious intent by Blair Alston, who had been barged in the box by Arfield.
Gerrard has spoken about desiring “90-minute performances”, where there is no letting-up. He certainly got near to one here. After Candeias had scored Rangers’ fifth of the afternoon, a minute or so after Alston gave the small band of away fans something to cheer, the winger rushed to try to get the ball back from St Johnstone goalkeeper Zander Clark. Rangers were intent on hitting six, perhaps more. They had the time and they had the opportunities, Morelos especially.
There was only one minor charge of unprofessionalism: Ovie Ejaria tried to come on as a substitute despite not wearing any shin pads. Tavernier, who he was replacing, whipped out his from his socks in order to prevent any further delay. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” Gerrard later smiled. He could afford to be sanguine after the biggest home top-flight victory since a 5-0 win over Dundee United in May 2012.
The stadium was a vast, content bowl even before the match ball had been delivered ahead of kick-off by a pair of abseiling soldiers on what was Armed Forces’ Day at Ibrox. News of Celtic’s defeat at Kilmarnock set the tone for a day of celebration.
St Johnstone started brightly, creating an opening that should have been converted by David Wotherspoon rather than hit over the bar after Drey Wright’s near-post cross. Tavernier opened the scoring two minutes later and the visitors spent much of the rest of the half pinned back.
Europe is all well and good. But Gerrard also wants Rangers to engage with domestic matters. Like Dundee eight days earlier, St Johnstone were left to chase the game after going behind so early. It’s an unenviable position to be in at a packed, expectant Ibrox.
The hosts tightened up after permitting that early chance for Wotherspoon, seemingly mindful of the criticism Gerrard felt their first-half performance against Dundee, when they were leading 3-0, warranted.
Rangers were razor sharp in the way St Johnstone were not. Tony Watt rolled an opportunity past the post in the second-half after a short backpass from Nicola Katic. There was another chance, identified by manager Tommy Wright as a defining moment, following an Alston burst forward five minutes after the interval. But Watt found himself crowded out and Allan McGregor made the block.
There was little evidence to suggest St Johnstone would have managed to profit had they succeeded in making it 2-1 at this point.
Rangers seemed able to score almost at will. Tavernier got the ball rolling, taking advantage of the yawning gap left by Clark at the far post at a free-kick after the Rangers skipper had been felled by Scott Tanser.
Tavernier hit the bar with a similar curling effort from the other side of the box just a few minutes later. He then played an integral part as Morelos put Rangers two ahead after 34 minutes, interchanging passes with the striker who then left Joe Shaughnessy on the turf with a masterful drag-back The left-foot finish into the roof of the net was every bit as good.
Arfield extinguished any St Johnstone hopes of a comeback six minutes into the second-half when sweeping in the rebound after Kent rifled an effort against the bar.
Lafferty helped himself to his fourth goal since returning to Rangers, side-footing into the corner after being teed up by Arfield. Candeias completed the rout with a neat finish 11 minutes from time after drifting across the box.