Ross County 0 - 1 Rangers: Late Ryan Kent goal reduces pressure on Steven Gerrard

Winger nets deflected strike as Rangers return to winning ways

For the first time since the Old Firm victory at Celtic Park in December which must now feel like a lifetime ago for Rangers supporters, Steven Gerrard’s team have won a Premiership fixture away from home.

It was hard-earned and hardly pleasing on the eye but Ryan Kent’s deflected strike in the closing stages was enough to see off the challenge posed by Ross County and give Gerrard and his players some desperately needed respite amid their recent collapse of domestic form and confidence.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Ahead of a momentous week which will see them host Bayer Leverkusen in the first leg of their Europa League last 16 tie on Thursday before Celtic pitch up at Ibrox three days later, it was critical for Rangers to avoid another setback.

Ryan Kent celebrates after scoring the only goal of the game. Picture: SNSRyan Kent celebrates after scoring the only goal of the game. Picture: SNS
Ryan Kent celebrates after scoring the only goal of the game. Picture: SNS

They still have some way to go if they are to fully drag themselves out of the rut manager Gerrard admits they have played themselves into since the winter break but they have at least taken a first upward step.

With County still very much involved in the relegation equation, they set up with a robust 4-5-1 formation designed to frustrate their visitors. It was a strategy which certainly succeeded for long spells as Rangers, despite controlling possession, struggled to create many clear-cut scoring opportunities.

There was an early test for County ‘keeper Ross Laidlaw when he confidently held a 20 yard shot from Glen Kamara but much of Rangers’ play, while neat and precise, lacked intensity or penetration.

County were happy to sit deep and wait for chances to counter attack. Ross Stewart, making his first start of 2020 after an injury absence, was the first to threaten for the hosts. His header was hoofed clear from inside the six yard box by Matt Polster, the American international deputising at right-back for injured Rangers captain James Tavernier.

Polster was keen to show his attacking prowess at the other end and when he pounced on some slack County play to surge through the middle, he was unceremoniously hauled down by Liam Fontaine who collected the first caution of the afternoon.

Rangers managed to call Laidlaw into action again in the 15th minute when Kent cut in from the left and saw his shot parried by the ‘keeper. In the melee which followed, Kamara saw a shot blocked before Alfredo Morelos was denied by another smart save by Laidlaw.

Too many of Rangers’ crosses were being overhit but Borna Barisic did pick out Morelos with a perfectly weighted delivery in the 25th minute. The striker should have done better than guide his header wide of Laidlaw’s left hand post.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Rangers had strong claims for a penalty turned down eight minutes before the interval. Polster made another enterprising burst down the right and his low cutback appeared to strike the arm of Fontaine as the defender blocked it. Referee Andrew Dallas was unmoved but it looked like a fortunate escape for the County captain.

There was a more progressive approach from the home side after the break as they perhaps sensed there was an opportunity to capitalise on Rangers’ fragile confidence.

Suddenly it was Allan McGregor who was the busier ‘keeper and the Rangers veteran called upon all of his experience to make a fine save with his legs to keep out Billy McKay’s shot after Joe Aribo had lost possession cheaply just outside his own penalty area.

It was a slackness which seemed to be spreading throughout the Rangers team. Steven Davis, normally so assured on the ball, was next to give it away under little pressure. It allowed Josh Mullin to lead a raid from which Stewart should have done better than blaze as shot wildly off target.

Mullin was the source of increasing problems for the Rangers defence and after a terrific run down the left, he saw his rising shot brilliantly touched over by McGregor.

That was the cue for Gerrard to make his first change, replacing Ianis Hagi with Florian Kamberi and tweaking his formation to switch Kent to the right wing.

It succeeded in bringing freshness and purpose to Rangers in attack. Kent’s first burst down the right saw his low cross pick out Kamberi whose shot was deflected wide. From the resulting corner, Aribo saw an effort cleared off the line by Iain Vigurs.

Gerrard further reinforced his team’s attacking options with midfielder Kamara making way for winger Jordan Jones and the breakthrough finally came their way with 13 minutes remaining as Kent’s relocation in the formation paid dividends.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The £7 million winger cut inside and unleashed a low shot which may not have caused Laidlaw too much trouble until it took a deflection off Richard Foster, leaving the ‘keeper helpless as the ball nestled in the right hand corner of his net.

Rangers should have put gloss on the scoreline in stoppage time when Jones failed to convert from close range but this was a day when the margin of victory was far less important than victory itself to Gerrard.