Rangers managed to serve up a slice of revenge on a particularly cold afternoon in Paisley.
It cannot quite make up for losing to St Mirren in the Betfred Cup – that chance of silverware is irretrievably lost – but this sub-zero assignment did become the perfect warm-up for Saturday’s seismic Old Firm encounter.
A 16-point lead over Celtic remains firmly intact ahead of one of the defining games of the season.
Rangers made a major title statement with a 2-0 win over St Mirren to maintain a 16-point lead
The run-out was perfect preparation for Rangers’ Old Firm derby with Celtic on Saturday
Now up to 13 successive Premiership wins, Steven Gerrard’s side have responded to their sole setback of the campaign by taking 12 points out of 12. That counts as a little test of mentality passed. They should not lack confidence when they pursue back-to-back derby triumphs.
After what happened on December 16, returning to this venue was always to require Rangers to show grit as well as guile. St Mirren again asked questions. But where the Ibrox defence was flaky last time round, here they were resolute enough to come up with all the necessary answers and make it a pretty routine affair.
Impact at the other end was found during the first half. A deflected strike from Kemar Roofe – his ninth in his last 11 games – was followed by a goal from Alfredo Morelos.
The value attached to the latter could be significant. Morelos hadn’t scored in the Premiership since September 20 before he kept calm to capitalise on an error from Joe Shaughnessy. Gerrard will hope it marks a wider return to potency for the Colombian during 2021.
Alfredo Morelos scored his first league goal in three months in Rangers’ victory at St Mirren
As it is, signing off this year with another win could only have delighted the Ibrox boss. Step by step, his squad is showing the fortitude required in a title race.
Clearly, the value of winning again on Saturday would be immense. Perhaps even pivotal. Gerrard knows, however, that digging out wins against opponents such Saints is every bit as important over the course.
Paisley counterpart Jim Goodwin couldn’t fault the application of his players. They invested all the energy they had in an attempt to make lightning strike twice. It didn’t happen but it would be a surprise if just a second defeats in 14 games derailed them. Goodwin will expect a rapid response when they meet Kilmarnock on January 2.
He surprised no-one here by picking exactly the same starting line-up as in the Betfred Cup. And Saints didn’t waste any time in showing similar intent.
Steven Gerrard’s Gers are on course for the Premiership title with a 13th straight league win
Steven Davis dwelled too long seeking to pick a forward pass after just 20 seconds. Jamie McGrath promptly robbed him and advanced to send a pretty tame 25-yard shot at Allan McGregor.
Even so, notice had been served. Davis raised a hand in apology to his colleagues. Rangers were going to have operate with speed and intelligence to bypass the incessant press.
That formed a core part of St Mirren’s game-plan, but there was more about them. Plenty of threat was present as they looked brimful of belief in the opening stages. It almost led to a 12 minute opener.
Filip Helander got involved in a grapple with Jon Obika under a cross, with Dylan Connolly reacting better than Borna Barisic when the ball broke right. Connolly’s shot was spilled by McGregor – making his 400th Rangers appearance – and fell for Obika. Needing to twist to get a strike at goal, the striker fired it too high. It was decent opening.
Dylan Connolly (right) had an early chance for St Mirren with a first-half shot on goal
Helander was in for Leon Balogun, while Morelos was restored up front at the expense of Ryan Kent. The £7 million man was given a rest primarily to allow Ianis Hagi an opportunity to continue form that had delivered goals in successive games.
His first chance to score again arrived on 26 minutes when Joe Aribo was fouled. Hagi, though, was wasteful with the free-kick.
That was quickly forgotten when the Romanian recorded a vital assist a minute later. Seizing determinedly on a loose ball after Glen Kamara’s pass was blocked, Hagi fed it into the path of Roofe’s run into the area.
Kemar Roofe (left) gave Rangers the lead on 27 minutes after holding off three Saints players
The former Anderlecht man’s angled strike took a deflection off Conor McCarthy and beat Jak Alnwick for his 12thgoal of the season.
Rangers had the lead. But then they were 1-0 up on December 16 as well. Building on it this time was key.
They did so on 33 minutes, with a little help from their hosts. Shaughnessy’s short back-pass sent Morelos clean through on Alnwick. A firm finish erased his recent frustration and gave Gerrard the kind of advantage he would have delightedly taken at the break.
Morelos (right) scored Rangers’ second goal in their Paisley win on Wednesday night
It felt a little tough on St Mirren given how well they had started, but this was Rangers exhibiting their ruthlessness to the full. Again, that clinical edge counts as a measurable improvement on past campaigns.
Goodwin knew his side could yet alter the psychology of this contest by claiming the next goal. Getting one back might just reintroduce doubt to Rangers minds.
Saints came out for the start of the second period with renewed drive. Obika rolled away from Goldson to break into the area and test McGregor with a near-post effort from an acute angle.
The English forward’s next encounter with Goldson was uglier. An arm to the head in an aerial challenge floored the Ibrox centre-back and brought a yellow card from referee Alan Muir.
Ian Hagi (right) set up Roofe’s goal and the Romanian nearly got in on the act in the second-half
Rangers then sought to settle any debate about the outcome. Kamara had a first go before Morelos whipped in a strike that Alnwick pushed to the far post. Hagi tried to keep the threat alive but was blocked out by Richard Tait.
The £3 million man had another chance to seal it but his ball across goal eluded both Tavernier and Kent, who was on for Roofe.
Saints kept on pushing but Rangers stood firm. Goldson blocked with his chest in a late scramble as a third successive clean sheet was claimed.