A three-goal flurry early in the second half allowed Rangers to maintain their summer momentum with a morale-boosting victory over English Championship side Wigan Athletic.
Headers from Alfredo Morelos and substitutes Nikola Katic and Umar Sadiq ensured a fairly smooth afternoon for Steven Gerrard in a warm-up match sandwiched by the two legs of the crucial Europa League tie against Osijek.
As they prepare to try and protect a 1-0 lead over the Croatian side at Ibrox this Thursday, it came as little surprise that the manager made as many as seven changes to the side that triumphed in the Balkans less than three days previously, with captain James Tavernier, Connor Goldson, Ovi Ejaria and Morelos the only players to remain in the starting line-up.
Allan McGregor and Ryan Jack were among those given the afternoon off, but Sadiq, the striker recently signed on a season-long loan from Roma, was listed among the substitutes after missing the Osijek game because he was short of match fitness.
Wigan, backed by a large and vocal travelling support, included former Rangers youngster Kal Naismith in their starting line-up, while Jamie Walker, the former Hearts player who was the subject of interest from the Ibrox club last year, was on the bench for Paul Cook’s newly-promoted side ahead of their Championship opener at home to Sheffield Wednesday this weekend.
Rangers had the first half-chance of the match when Glenn Middleton picked out Morelos with a cross from the left, but the Colombian was unable to keep his close-range header down.
A minute later, Wigan’s Michael Jacobs glanced a header wide after meeting Naismith’s corner at the near post. Rangers almost went ahead in the 23rd minute when Ross McCrorie drilled a low angled left-footed shot just wide of the far post after a corner broke to him just inside the box.
At the other end, James Vaughan sent a header into the side-netting after meeting a corner from Reece James at the back post. Tavernier, playing against his former club, curled a free-kick straight into the hands of Wigan goalkeeper Chris Walton, before Vaughan headed over with the last chance of a low-tempo half seconds before the break.
Rangers, who replaced teenage centre-back Kyle Bradley with Katic at half-time, almost went ahead a minute after the restart but Middleton, the 18-year-old former Norwich winger, blazed over after being set up by Morelos in a central position 15 yards out.
Rangers went close again in the 51st minute when Morelos’s cutback ricocheted goalbound off Wigan midfielder Darron Gibson and Walton got down superbly to claw it out before the ball was cleared behind. From the resulting corner, the hosts took the the lead as the ball eventually found its way out to Candeias, who fired in an angled cross from the right, midway inside the Wigan half, and Morelos got to it ahead of Walton and nodded into the net.
It was to prove the Colombian’s last act of the day as, two minutes later, he collapsed in a heap and limped off to be replaced by debutant Sadiq.
Rangers doubled their lead on 57 minutes when Croatian centre-back Katic rose to power home a header from a Middleton corner, and they scored again four minutes later when Sadiq outjumped Wigan defender Chey Dunkley in an aerial challenge to head the ball into the net after Candeias’s cross from the right had taken a deflection and looped up into the air.
There was more cheer for the Rangers fans among the 28,779 crowd when Wes Foderingham, on as a half-time replacement for Jak Alnwick, saved a penalty from Will Grigg after Walker had been upended in the 77th minute.