St Johnstone 1 - 2 Rangers: Gers end season on a high
The 2,453 visiting supporters were in good voice as the players took a bow at the end after goals from Kenny Miller and Jon Toral secured the points to give Rangers a third successive away win.
A young Ibrox side stuck gamely to their task against a strong St Johnstone team and were able to withstand a spirited finish from the hosts.
It’s quite possible the visitors’ line-up featuring two full debutants in goalkeeper Jak Alnwick and the excellent midfielder Jamie Barjonas – striker Kyle Bradley made it three late on – will never be seen again, with big changes planned at Ibrox over what is a very short summer break.
Pedro Caixinha later suggested those auxiliaries who did so well yesterday and others who came in towards the end of the campaign might find it hard to cement places in a team set to be transformed this summer.
“Now we are building a totally new squad and they will stay with us when we need some sort of players,” said the manager. “They are not going to be part of the squad, but are there if we need them for the training sessions or the matches.
“It will be something very different next season, definitely,” he added.
Rangers withstood an energetic start from the hosts as well as the whisper of a comeback to send their fans away as happy as they can be after finishing a whopping 39 points behind Celtic.
Caixinha posed for selfies with Rangers fans and also partook in an impromptu ‘bouncy’ at the final whistle after a mini-invasion near the tunnel entrance.
He later promised supporters, who have taken him to their heart despite a string of mediocre results, that there would be better things to come.
Of course this all comes against a backdrop of an all-conquering Celtic side, who have now equalled Rangers’ feat from 1898-99 of going an entire league season unbeaten.
But the Ibrox side did all they could do yesterday by winning their last league game against a side boasting a proud post-split record. This was only St Johnstone’s fifth defeat in 25 such fixtures.
Miller arrowed a shot into the corner after 40 minutes to open the scoring and Toral stretched Rangers’ lead after 53 minutes. But St Johnstone substitute Graham Cummins cut the deficit with 14 minutes left, drilling into the corner of Alnwick’s net from 12 yards. The Rangers goalkeeper ensured his side travelled back with full points when making a good block from Steven MacLean in a one-on-one situation.
The season hasn’t been one to cherish for Rangers, who probably planned on finishing the campaign with the same manager at least. As outlined by chairman Dave King following their opening Premiership game of the season, a 1-1 draw with Hamilton Accies, they also expected to finish “second – at least”.
Instead they’ve finished some distance off the runners-up spot. But at least they are as close to Aberdeen as they are to St Johnstone, for whom a win yesterday would have cut the gap to Rangers to just three points. In that respect at least, and on a day of limited tension, this was a six-pointer.
Finishing nine points behind Rangers in fourth place is still another remarkable success for the Perth side. Tommy Wright, right, was as demonstrative as ever on the touchline in a big anorak on a dreich afternoon in Perthshire.
His players responded by showing plenty of appetite. They could and perhaps should have taken the lead after Chris Millar’s cross was headed down by Blair Alston but MacLean prodded just wide from the edge of the six-yard box.
The striker had another chance after Craig Thomson skinned Myles Beerman on the left and sent over an inviting cross. MacLean rose perhaps just a little too early and headed wide.
But Rangers could not be discounted and were threatening to harm St Johnstone on the break. A fine ball from Toral picked out Miller, who’d managed to get the wrong side of Foster. The striker was always stretching, however, and knocked the ball wide.
Five minutes before the interval Rangers struck with a goal of fine quality. Martyn Waghorn had been fairly anonymous before coming to life and leaving Tam Scobbie for dead on the right. His cut-back found Miller just inside the box and his finish was true into the corner. With 14 goals for the season, Miller has more than earned an extra 12-month deal.
Rangers’ second, eight minutes after the interval, was just as well constructed, with James Tavernier evading two challenges while wriggling into the box. He had the composure to pick out Toral, who struck confidently into the far corner from eight yards.
Waghorn wasted the chance to put his team three up when blazing over just before the hour mark.
But it wasn’t as costly as they feared with St Johnstone failing to build on the comeback hinted at by Cummins, who finished well after Richard Foster’s cross from the left was not cleared by the Rangers defence.