On an evening when they revealed a major financial loss off the pitch, Rangers were unable to make then kind of gain on it which Steven Gerrard craved.
A year on from the 1-1 draw at Ibrox which signalled the end of Pedro Caixinha’s reign as manager, Gerrard was forced to settle for the same scoreline against Steve Clarke’s upwardly mobile side.
Greg Stewart cancelled out Alfredo Morelos’ early opener for Rangers as the hosts saw their efforts to emerge from the gloom of Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final defeat frustrated. It leaves them behind third-placed Kilmarnock in the Premiership table and still eight points off the pace being set by leaders Hearts.
It took Morelos (pictured) just nine minutes to remind the Rangers supporters what they had missed due to his absence through suspension from the Hampden defeat. The Colombian striker’s 13th goal of the season gave Gerrard’s side the perfect start as they looked to deliver the response the manager had demanded of them.
The breakthrough came from a counter-attack which saw Rangers captain James Tavernier regain possession deep in his own half before referee Nick Walsh allowed an excellent advantage after Daniel Candeias was chopped down on the halfway line.
The raid gathered pace as play was switched to the left for Ryan Kent who fed Morelos on the edge of the penalty area. His low shot took a deflection off Kilmarnock defender Kirk Broadfoot, giving keeper Jamie MacDonald no time to react.
The return of Morelos at the expense of Umar Sadiq, who did not even feature among the substitutes, was one of four changes Gerrard made to his starting line-up. Allan McGregor was the most eye-catching omission, replaced in goal by Wes Foderingham, while Andy Halliday and Scott Arfield came in for Ryan Jack and Ovie Ejaria.
But the reshaped Rangers side were unable to consolidate on the flying start provided by Morelos as Kilmarnock responded impressively to equalise just six minutes later.
The visitors exploited some weak defending down Rangers’ left flank as Aaron Tshibola was able to force his way into the penalty area, slipping a pass to Greg Stewart who bent a superb left foot shot beyond Foderingham into the far corner of the net.
As Rangers tried to reimpose some authority on the contest, the Kilmarnock goal survived a frenetic scramble following a Tavernier corner as attempts from Connor Goldson, Joe Worrall and Morelos were all blocked in and around the six-yard box.
While the home side spent more time on the front foot, Kilmarnock looked menacing on the counter-attack and Stephen O’Donnell came close with a sweetly struck shot from around 25 yards which narrowly cleared Foderingham’s crossbar.
Rangers continued to look vulnerable in their left-back area and former Ibrox winger Chris Burke threatened for Killie when he skipped beyond Jon Flanagan and Worrall before Foderingham swooped to gather the ball at his feet.
Tavernier clipped MacDonald’s crossbar with a dipping 20-yard shot a minute before half-time but the visitors were well worth parity at the break.
Gerrard made a change at the start of the second half, Flanagan replaced by Jack with Halliday switching into the left-back role, and made his second substitution soon afterwards when Lassana Coulibaly made way for winger Glenn Middleton.
Rangers gradually started to carry a more sustained level of attacking threat and Arfield should have put them ahead when he stabbed wide from close range after Tavernier and Candeias had opened Killie up on the right, then MacDonald had to stretch to his left to keep out Kent’s effort from outside the penalty area.
Kilmarnock remained resolute, however, and Gerrard made his final alteration with just under 20 minutes left as Kyle Lafferty replaced Candeias. Lafferty flashed an overhead kick wide in a spectacular bid to regain the lead for Rangers, sparking a frantic finale.
Morelos was booked for simulation when the home side had appeals for a penalty rejected when he went down under Broadfoot’s challenge, before Stewart almost grabbed a stoppage time winner for Kilmarnock when he was denied by Foderingham.