Rangers recorded their most convincing and comprehensive victory since returning from the international break as they swatted Ross County aside to remain neck and neck with Celtic on points at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
Steven Gerrard’s side stay a short head behind the champions on goal difference but did their cause on that front no harm as Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Jack both scored braces in a commanding display.
Colombian striker Morelos took his tally for the season to 18, once more emphasising how crucial he will be to Gerrard’s hopes of dethroning Celtic this season.
Rangers had been guilty of sluggish starts in their two previous league fixtures which saw them fall behind against both Hearts and Motherwell. But they were very much in a hurry on this occasion, the intensity of their approach effectively wrapping up all three points before half-time.
Jack’s value to Rangers is not normally measured in goals but they added extra sheen to another highly influential performance from the midfielder which underlined why Gerrard was so keen to tie him down on the new contract he signed last week.
He was at the heart of everything the visitors did well, starting with his involvement in their first threatening move of the night which should have seen Sheyi Ojo open the scoring in the fourth minute.
Jack combined with Glen Kamara to create a gilt-edged opportunity for the on-loan Liverpool winger but he scuffed his shot against Ross Laidlaw’s right hand post from close range.
As Rangers quickly took control of possession and territory, Morelos and Scott Arfield’s neat link-up play proved troublesome for County. Laidlaw had to dive to his left to keep out Arfield’s firm shot from just inside the penalty area after Morelos had sprung clear down the right to set him up.
The signs were ominous for the hosts and they duly found themselves trailing in the 20th minute. It was a slick move from Rangers as Joe Aribo and Ojo exchanged passes on the left before the ball was driven low to the far post where Morelos eagerly accepted the tap in.
Filip Helander’s clumsy foul on Ross Stewart gave County a free-kick in a dangerous position two minutes later but Joe Chalmers curled his effort wide of Wes Foderingham’s left hand post.
The Rangers goalkeeper, making his first appearance since August with Allan McGregor sidelined by injury, had little else to concern him as his team-mates continued to dominate.
They doubled their lead in the 29th minute with the first of Jack’s two exceptional finishes from distance. County defender Liam Fontaine made a poor attempt to clear from a Rangers throw-in on the left and when the ball broke to Jack, he guided his right foot shot beyond Laidlaw’s left hand into the corner of the net.
County looked badly shaken and the uncertainty in their defence was seized upon by Rangers who sensed the opportunity to enhance their goal difference.
Morelos squeezed a shot just wide after County were unable to clear a James Tavernier corner but the third goal arrived in the 37th minute. There was a touch of deja vu about it all, Aribo and Arfield combining smoothly on the left to set up an identikit chance for Jack who again bent the ball beyond Laidlaw into the far corner of the net.
County, forced to replace the injured Tom Gtrivosti with Keith Watson before the interval, were now simply engaged in an exercise of damage limitation.
Rangers were in no mood to ease off and continued to hem the hosts in from the restart. Aribo should have made it 4-0 in the 49th minute but contrived to strike Laidlaw’s right hand post with his shot from inside the six yard box.
Jack came close to a spectacular hat-trick when he thundered a 25 yard shot just wide of Laidlaw’s right hand post before the County ‘keeper made a smart save to deny Morelos from close range.
Barely seen as an attacking force, County almost pulled a goal back when Ross Draper’s shot took a deflection and struck Foderingham’s left hand post.
But normal service was quickly resumed when Rangers did get their fourth goal in the 71st minute. Aribo, who had produced some eye-catching touches throughout, found Morelos on the left of the penalty area and the striker drove a shot across Laidlaw into the opposite corner of the net.
Jack and Morelos both left the field to warm ovations from the visiting support in the closing stages as they were withdrawn by Gerrard, perhaps with Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final against Hearts in mind.
Jermain Defoe, replacing Morelos up front, might have added a fifth for Rangers but the veteran striker badly mistimed his header from Tavernier’s inviting cross.
But while Gerrard might feel his team passed up the opportunity to overtake Celtic at the summit on goal difference, he could feel generally satisfied with both the result and their performance.