Alfredo Morelos back to his best as Rangers go 22 points clear of Celtic with 2-1 win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie
His double at Pittodrie, finally taking his 2020-21 tally into double figures, earned a 2-1 win over Aberdeen which was ultimately far more nervy than it should have been.
The hosts played with 10 men for over an hour after Ryan Hedges was sent off for conceding a penalty kick which Rangers captain James Tavernier missed. Morelos emerged to put the visitors in control with two excellent finishes before they let their guard down as Matty Kennedy pulled one back for the Dons.
Rangers saw it out, as they are now far more effective at doing, for a 15th straight Premiership victory which stretches their lead over Celtic to 22 points.
Having still been able to establish such a commanding position at the top of the table while their leading striker has not been firing on all cylinders in front of goal, a return to his previously accustomed prolific form for Morelos can only turbo-charge Rangers’ progress to the finishing line in the title race.
The Colombian’s outstanding turn and finish to give his team the lead in the 33rd minute was certainly a prime example of him at his deadly best, the kind of ability which has now seen him plunder 87 goals in 165 appearances for the Ibrox club.
It would have come as both a relief and a cause for celebration to Morelos who should have broken the deadlock inside the opening 20 seconds when Ash Taylor made a mess of trying to cut out a Tavernier through ball. It fell invitingly into the path of Morelos but his scuffed attempt was easily gathered by Joe Lewis.
Despite their exceptional clean sheet record this season, the Rangers defence is far from immune to moments of uncertainty and the occasional air of vulnerability.
Before the afternoon started to run away from them, Aberdeen had encouragement on that front as the pace and movement of Scott Wright in behind Curtis Main and Sam Cosgrove caused the visitors some anxious moments. Cosgrove should have done better than blaze over from around 12 yards after he had run into space behind Connor Goldson.
But even before Hedges’ dismissal, Rangers were starting to exert some authority on proceedings as their passing game clicked pleasingly into gear from Gerrard’s perspective.
It took some desperate defending from Aberdeen to keep them out in the 23rd minute when a Ryan Kent shot was blocked by Jonny Hayes before Tavernier’s follow-up effort was well saved by Lewis.
Rangers’ pressure told five minutes later when sharp work sent Morelos bursting into the penalty area and had his heels clipped clumsily by Hedges. The Aberdeen man had no chance of getting the ball and the straight red card was an easy decision for referee John Beaton.
Rangers were unable to punish Aberdeen further from the spot, Tavernier steering the ball wide of Lewis’ left hand post. It was his first penalty failure in 10 attempts, stretching back to October 2019.
But the Rangers skipper didn’t have to berate himself for too long as he played his part in the opening goal with some fine play down the right. He fed the ball inside to Kent who in turn shuttled it on to Morelos whose sharpness left the Aberdeen defence wrong-footed and Lewis helpless as the ball beat him low to his left.
Aberdeen could count themselves hugely fortunate not to be reduced to nine men four minutes before the interval when Main lunged in wildly and needlessly on Barisic. The Rangers players were incensed by the challenge and bemused when Beaton decided it only merited a yellow card. It was telling that Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes quickly withdrew Main, replacing him with Shay Logan.
Rangers’ style of play makes them as well-equipped as any side in the country to make the most of the additional space on offer against short-handed opponents and they duly utilised the whole of the pitch to stretch Aberdeen.
The game looked to be over as a contest five minutes into the second half when Morelos struck again. Joe Aribo’s low cross from the right was cleverly flicked on by Kent for Morelos to guide home a right foot shot which Lewis got a touch to but couldn’t keep out.
But after a fine Lewis save prevented a brilliant Kent shot from adding to the lead, Rangers lapsed into a period of lax play which presented Aberdeen with renewed hope.
Allan McGregor made an excellent save to keep out a shot from the lively Hayes but was left exposed and helpless when Aberdeen did pull a goal back in the 67th minute. The Rangers defence were badly out of position as Cosgrove and Hayes linked up to create the chance which was finished coolly by substitute Kennedy.
Rangers negotiated the rest of the match without any great difficulty, however, to head back to Glasgow one step closer to glory.
Aberdeen (3-4-1-2): Lewis, Hoban, Taylor (Edmondson 89), Considine; Hedges, Campbell, Ferguson, Hayes; Wright (Kennedy 58); Main (Logan 44), Cosgrove. Subs not used: Woods, Ojo, Anderson, Virtanen, McGinn, Ngwenya.
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Barisic; Aribo, Davis, Kamara; Hagi (Zungu 82), Morelos, Kent. Subs not used: McLaughlin, Bassey, Helander, Patterson, Barker, Stewart, Defoe, Itten.
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.