Rangers 2-0 Aberdeen: James Tavernier penalty brace secures second for Gers
Rangers ensured Celtic will have to cross the finishing line under their own steam in the title race as Steven Gerrard’s side successfully addressed their own agenda against Aberdeen.
Two second half penalties, expertly taken by Rangers captain James Tavernier who has now scored a remarkable 14 times from the spot this season, secured a fully deserved victory for the Ibrox men which secures them second place in the Premiership table.
It is both their highest finish and points tally since returning to the top flight three years ago, a tangible vindication of the progress Gerrard can claim to have made in his first season as manager.
It leaves Celtic still needing one more point to wrap up their eighth successive title triumph with the first opportunity to claim it coming against Aberdeen at Pittodrie next Saturday.
Derek McInnes’ team, whose run of four consecutive runners-up spots is over, are now focused solely on holding off the challenge of Kilmarnock for third place and guaranteeing Europa League football next season.
The return from suspension of Ryan Kent was enthusiastically welcomed by the Rangers support and the on-loan Liverpool winger was prominent in much of his team’s most positive work as they dominated possession from the start.
Kent, replacing Daniel Candeias in the only change to Gerrard’s starting line-up, broke free on the right to create the first opening of the afternoon but his cross lacked accuracy as he failed to pick out Jermain Defoe who was lurking around the edge of the six-yard box.
Aberdeen, without injured captain Graeme Shinnie, were set up with the intention of flooding midfield and frustrating Rangers. It wasn’t pleasing on the eye but it proved effective for long spells as they succeeded in denying their hosts any sustained spells of fluency.
There was some early disruption to McInnes’ game plan when Connor McLennan limped off after just 15 minutes, his place taken by Michael Devlin, but the Dons remained resolute and caused increasing agitation among the Rangers fans as they continued to break up play and waste time whenever possible.
As Rangers attempted to increase the tempo and get the ball forward more rapidly, Defoe was a little too eager in his pursuit of a through ball as his collision with Joe Lewis saw the Aberdeen ‘keeper require treatment after coming off worst in the clash.
With Steven Davis and Glen Kamara prompting intelligently and patiently, Rangers gradually began to stretch the Aberdeen defence more often. From their best move yet, Kent came close when he dragged a shot just wide of Lewis’ left hand post in the 26th minute.
Three minutes later, Defoe should have put Rangers in front. Davis and Scott Arfield combined slickly to set the veteran striker free in the box. He looked odds-on to score but his shot was just too close to Lewis who made a smart save.
As Rangers looked to crank up the pressure, Devlin had to look sharp to cut out a low cross from James Tavernier before it reached Defoe who then picked up a foolish booking when he stuck out his hand to try and get on the end of Tavernier’s next ball into the box.
Aberdeen were scarcely evident in their attacking third of the pitch, although Allan McGregor was called into action in the 34th minute when he got down to gather a shot from James Wilson. The Rangers ‘keeper was unhappy with Aberdeen full-back Max Lowe’s follow-up attentions but referee Don Robertson took no action.
Rangers were soon back on the front foot. Defoe was played in again, only to see his shot deflected wide this time, then Connor Goldson flashed a header over from a Davis cross. Aberdeen were hanging on with increasing desperation as half-time approached and Lewis made two more fine saves to deny Tavernier and Davis to maintain the stalemate.
Gerrard, clearly as unimpressed as the Rangers support by the spoiling tactics employed by Aberdeen, waited at the edge of the pitch to speak to referee Robertson at the interval, presumably querying the amount of stoppage time allocated.
But Gerrard’s mood brightened considerably three minutes into the second half when Robertson awarded the spot-kick which finally broke Aberdeen’s resistance. It was of the soft variety, although there was certainly contact, however minimal, from Lewis Ferguson on Nikola Katic which prompted the big Rangers defender to take a tumble.
Once Aberdeen’s protests at the decision subsided, Tavernier stepped forward to make a typically emphatic job of converting from 12 yards as he sent Lewis the wrong way.
Rangers were dictating play with confidence and purpose but the insurance of a second goal proved elusive. Defoe passed up a good chance to provide it when he scooped the ball over from close range after Lewis had beaten out a cross from Tavernier.
The Rangers skipper then had the ball in the net again at the end of a tremendous flowing move but his celebrations were cut short by a marginal but correct offside decision.
The next big call from the officials was certainly open to intense debate as a second penalty award to Rangers killed off any hopes of an Aberdeen recovery. Katic was at the heart of it again, going down theatrically as a trailing arm from Considine caught him in the face. To rub salt in the wounds of the disbelieving Considine, who had been booked for a foul on Ryan Jack at the end of the first half, he received a second yellow card and his marching orders.
Lewis guessed correctly this time, diving to his right, but was unable to prevent another thunderously struck kick from Tavernier nestling in the corner of his net.
The afternoon ended with a warm ovation from the Rangers fans for former club captain Lee Wallace, handed only his third outing of the season as a late substitute.