There was a certain quirkiness about the identity of the individuals instrumental in excavating Rangers from the hole that three games without a win had left Steven Gerrard’s team.
A specious comparison had been drawn in recent days between the win ratio of the former England captain and the discredited Pedro Caixinha across their Ibrox tenures. The Portuguese left the Ibrox club in a seemingly bottomless pit when dismissed just over a year ago.
Among a raft of rum signings, though, he also left them with Daniel Candeias and Alfredo Morelos. And it was these two that prevented a stubborn St Mirren side holding out for a more than unlikely point following six straight defeats.
Candeias had nothing short of a crackers afternoon. On as a 55th minute substitute for the peripheral Eros Grezda – whose only notable intervention on his first start was smacking the upright with a low drive just before he was withdrawn – the winger’s cameo was a headline grabber. And that was even before his ridiculous second yellow card in the final seconds, shown to him along with a red card by Willie Collum for being dunted on the chin by the clenched fist of Anton Ferdinand. Candeias earned that punishment – but did not dish any out – after hacking off the centre-back over his vocal and demonstrative teasing of the home players in the aftermath of Morelos making the points safe.
All this occurred 12 minutes after Candeias changed the complexion of an encounter that looked like it might provide some respite for the beleaguered St Mirren manager Oran Kearney. He did so with a hit from the inside-right channel that took a curious flight path into the top right-hand corner of the helpless Craig Samson’s net. It might have been wind-assisted. It certainly was fortune assisted, the Portuguese confessing to team-mates afterwards there was no scoring intent in his action.
“According to Daniel he meant it,” said an amused Gerrard, to whom the player clearly hadn’t come clean. “I’ve been in the game a long time and haven’t seen anyone score one of those… not on purpose anyway.”
Gerrard was content with the purpose shown by his players on a day when all that mattered was the ability to dig out a win – which had proved beyond them across a challenging spell.
“We are going to have sticky moments, bumps in the road, but the important thing is we stick together and try to do the right things,” he said. “The first half was tough. I said to my staff that if we were level at half-time we would win this game. We did our best in bad conditions, the most important thing is we didn’t concede. I was pleased at 0-0 because I knew we would create in the second half.”
In that first period the home team was unrecognisable from the side that had struggled to muster any real menace across their previous seven games under Kearney – a goalless draw against Celtic in his first outing having given way to the club’s worst run in the top flight since the 1920s.
Allan McGregor had to show feline agility to flick away an Ian McShane free-kick that deflected off his defensive wall with only a couple of minutes gone, and he shortly afterwards proved alert in blocking from Ryan Edwards. By an hour in, though, Rangers had begun to hem in St Mirren. Kearney’s side were then diminished by the injury loss of their captain and buttressing presence Stephen McGinn.
Ultimately, the visitors were not flattered by a scoreline earned when Morelos bagged his 14th goal of the season after bounding into the box from the right and battering a low drive into the far corner.
Kearney, though, refuses to lose heart as his team can’t stop losing games. “The first goal is very important and if it’s a shot and it went it then I’ll doff my cap but if it’s a cross then that’s a disappointing one,” he said. “The first goal into the last part of the game was always going to have a huge effect. You could say that’s a sign of the luck we’re having just now and when you’re down there people say these things go against you and we’ve had a few of these in the last few weeks. But there were a lot of good qualities shown today.
“We said to the players today that they’re in a scrap and it was important today more for the fans that we saw a bit of passion and saw that it meant something to people. Just after half-time when we’re throwing five and six bodies at it to keep it off the line – those are the qualities you want to see. A game like this has brought them out and you want them to still be there in future weeks.”