How dozy Rangers relied on James Tavernier magic - but there are some concerns as St Johnstone show there's life after duo
With a Covid-19 outbreak at Ibrox at the end of August, the skipper missed Rangers' past two matches against Alashkert and Celtic, but restored to the starting XI, he scored the winner with a fine strike to grab all three points at McDiarmid Park. This 2-1 win sends the champions temporarily top of league, ahead of Hearts and Hibs, who clash in Sunday's Edinburgh derby.
This was a difficult afternoon for Rangers in Perth, who took a long time to get going. They were without centre-half Connor Goldson – for the first time in 82 matches – as he was following isolation protocols and they have further concerns in defence after Filip Helander exited the pitch on stretcher 13 minutes from time with what looked like a serious injury.
St Johnstone were a pest for Steven Gerrard's men last term, taking points off them in the league and knocking them out of the Scottish Cup. When the hosts took the lead five minutes into the second half when former Rangers' forward Michael O'Halloran scored, one wondered whether the visitors would be roused from their torpor, given Saints are such a hard nut to crack. Rangers, therefore, deserve credit for waking up and cranking through the gears. Kemar Roofe's penalty levelled proceedings before Tavernier struck.
Rangers struggled to break through a resolute St Johnstone defence. Their midfield trio of Joe Aribo, Glen Kamara and Steven Davis saw a lot of the ball, but could not get the forwards into the match. Alfredo Morelos, in particular, was quiet, with Ryan Kent to most sprightly of the front trio.
St Johnstone played their part in making life so difficult. Much has been made about whether there is life at McDiarmid Park after captain Jason Kerr and midfield talisman Ali McCann left the club on transfer-deadline day. Suggesting such a thing is doing a disservice to those remaining in Perth and the nous of manager Callum Davidson, who has extended his stay until the summer of 2025. Ali Crawford made his debut in midfield and showed some nice passes, while Hayden Muller played the Kerr role in the centre of defence and impressed, winning most of his duels and setting up O'Halloran for his goal. Considering they are without the injured Liam Gordon, Murray Davidson, Craig Bryson and Callum Booth, this was a heartening performance for those of a St Johnstone persuasion.
O'Halloran played like a man on a mission, perhaps imbued by facing his previous employers. He stayed on the shoulders of Helander and Leon Balogun, looking to latch on to long or through balls.
Rangers saw more of the ball in the first half but did little with it. Roofe came closest, his goalbound drive well blocked by Muller. Rangers manager Steven Gerrard, back on the touchline after contracting Covid-19, had much to ponder at he interval.
His mood would have darkened on 50 minutes when another long ball, this time from Muller, caught Rangers out. O'Halloran beat Helander to it, stepped inside the Swede and finished emphatically.
Rangers' response was almost instantaneous. On 57 minutes, Muller brought down Kent with a poorly-timed tackle and Roofe slammed the penalty home. In the aftermath, Roofe and Craig clashed, with Morelos and Shaun Rooney getting involved in a stramash. All four end up being booked.
The equaliser pumped up the crowd. Rangers pushed forward but found it hard to break down the Saints rearguard.
It took a moment of magic to win it and that came from Tavernier. The ball was shuttled out to the right and, while he could have been closed down quicker, his dipping, arcing strike gave Zander Clark no chance.