Mixed evening for Rangers at St Johnstone as Jack Simpson is caught out at death

On a night of firsts for Rangers, there were mixed feelings for Steven Gerrard’s side as they maintained their unbeaten Premiership record.

Scott Wright produces a composed finish to score his first goal for Rangers and put them ahead against St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)
Scott Wright produces a composed finish to score his first goal for Rangers and put them ahead against St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

Scott Wright’s first goal for the Ibrox club looked to have secured a victory over St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park ahead of the more significant Scottish Cup quarter-final meeting of the sides at Ibrox on Sunday.

But Jack Simpson’s first starting appearance for Rangers turned sour in the fourth minute of stoppage time when his foul on Chris Kane saw Saints awarded a penalty emphatically converted by Liam Craig.

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The home team will feel justice was served, having been denied an earlier claim by referee Euan Anderson who changed his mind after initially pointing to the spot.

Rangers captain James Tavernier played for 62 minutes on his comeback appearance in Perth before being replaced by Nathan Patterson. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

It was night when Gerrard felt able to rest several key players and also experiment with his formation, deploying a 4-4-2 system which saw Kemar Roofe and Cedric Itten given a chance to show what they can do together up front. On this evidence, it’s a partnership which needs more time to gel.

Gerrard could again be hugely encouraged by the lively performance of scorer Wright, while captain James Tavernier made a solid return from the knee injury which had seen him miss the last 10 games.

The seven changes Gerrard made to his starting line-up from the Scottish Cup win over Celtic three days earlier underlined where his priorities lay.

By contrast, Saints boss Callum Davidson was not in a position to treat the league fixture as of such secondary importance. With a fifth place finish and potential European qualification still a target for his club, he sent out arguably his strongest eleven.

Before Rangers secured a measure of control, the hosts should have taken advantage of a vibrant opening which saw both Craig and Guy Melamed direct efforts straight into the arms of Jon McLaughlin.

After that early burst of Saints’ pressure, Rangers were largely the more dominant side without creating much in the way of clear openings.

Simpson might have marked his first start with a goal, trying to be just too precise with a header which looped over, while Zander Clark had to sprint off his line to deny Wright.

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But the Saints goalkeeper was powerless to prevent Wright making the breakthrough 10 minutes into the second half. The indefatigable and invariably influential Steven Davis was the provider and Wright showed great awareness and composure to bend his shot wide of Clark’s left hand from the corner of the penalty area.

After the chaos and confusion of Saints’ first penalty claim, when Shaun Rooney went down under a challenge from Borna Barisic, it looked as if Rangers would rack up yet another victory and clean sheet.

But it eluded them in the final seconds of the match. Simpson had enjoyed a steady first full appearance since his winter transfer window move from Bournemouth but the big defender was caught unawares by Kane at the last.

St Johnstone (3-4-1-2): Clark, Kerr, Gordon, McCart; Rooney, McCann, Craig, Booth (Tanser 73); Wotherspoon (Bryson 78); May (O’Halloran 73), Melamed (Kane 22). Subs not used: Parish, Brown, Gilmour, Ferguson.

Rangers (4-4-2): McLaughlin, Tavernier (Patterson 62), Goldson, Simpson, Barisic (Bassey 79); Hagi (Defoe 79), Kamara, Davis (Aribo 69), Wright (Arfield 69); Itten, Roofe. Subs not used: McGregor, Helander, Kent, Morelos.

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