St Johnstone 0-3 Rangers: Philippe Clement’s side go TOP of Scottish Premiership table thanks to Mohamed Diomande’s strike and a James Tavernier brace

It’s hard to see who will stop Rangers now. For the first time since February 2022, the Ibrox side sit top of the Scottish Premiership at the business end of the season. Carry on winning games like this and they will plant a red, white and blue flag at the summit before the end of May.

January signings show every sign of settling the fate of the title. In an act of corporate negligence, Celtic left tens of millions burning a hole in the bank in the winter window. Operating with limited resources, Rangers showed creativity to land the likes of Mohamed Diomande on loan with an obligation to buy in the summer.

That looked a smart move when the Ivorian midfielder claimed his first goal for the club after 37 minutes of uninspired football in Perth. A controlled strike which settled the nerves no end, the Rangers fans behind both goals broke into a chorus of ‘We shall not be moved.’

Captain James Tavernier smashed two late penalties to equal his best goalscoring tally in a season of 19. Only Lawrence Shankland and Bojan Miovski have scored more goals in the league and, even allowing for the spot kicks, it’s a remarkable tally for a right-back.

Displaying level of mental strength and consistency Celtic look incapable of matching, Rangers could win the league more comfortably than expected. Beat their bitter rivals at Ibrox on April 7 and it becomes more of a when than an if.

There’s potential for nerves yet, of course. For a team smelling blood in the water, Rangers were curiously passive. For 37 minutes almost nothing happened. The intensity, the energy of recent games, was replaced by something more pensive altogether.

MATCH FACTS AND RATINGS 

ST JOHNSTONE (3-5-2): Mitov 6; McGowan 4.5, Gordon 5, Considine 4.5; Carey 5 (Kucheriavyi 80), Phillips 6.5, Kjeltens 3.5 (Kimpioka 45), Smith 5, Robinson 4.5; Smith 4, Sidibeh 4.5 (Clark 82). 

Booked: Keltjens, Phillips, McGowan. 

Manager: Craig Levein.

RANGERS (4-3-3): Butland 5; Tavernier 7, Souttar 6.5, Goldson 6.5, Barisic 5 (Yilmaz 82); Lundstram 7, DIOMANDE 7.5, Cantwell 4 (Lawrence 60); Wright 3.5 (Sterling 45), Cortes 5 (McCausland 68 3), Silva 5.5 (Dessers 68). 

Booked: None. 

Manager: Philippe Clement

Referee: Matthew MacDermid.

Attendance: 6,986.

Celtic’s implosion presented Clement with an opportunity to turn the screw by fielding his strongest team. Despite the hectic schedule of games ahead at home and in Europe, the lack of a midweek game raised a question. Might picking likes of Diomande, Borna Barisic and Scott Wright be a gamble the Belgian didn’t need to take?

The narrative — a word beloved of Brendan Rodgers recently — changed when Diomande claimed his first Rangers goal in only his second start.

Defending doggedly, St Johnstone had been a tough nut to crack. And when Ryan McGowan nicked the ball off the toe of Fabio Silva on the edge of the area, there looked no immediate danger.

Controlling the ball with one touch, the new signing showed real technique to stroke a measured shot into the net from 20 yards beyond Dimitar Mitov to the huge relief of the Rangers support behind the goal. It was the first piece of attacking quality in the game.

Craig Levein had issued his team with clear instructions which were easy to say, a good deal harder to execute. Defend well, be calm in possession, don’t get flustered, create some opportunities. The first part they did a good better than the rest.

Trinidadian midfielder Dan Phillips returned after three games injured and brought composure to the team’s play. It didn’t necessarily rub off on the others, St Johnstone failing to test Jack Butland in any shape or form.

Until the goal, Rangers had been no great shakes either, it should be said. John Lundstram’s arrowed balls behind the defence are becoming a common feature of the team’s attacking threat. Spearing one in for Colombian winger Oscar Cortes to control and win a corner, that was virtually the only action of the first half hour. You wouldn’t even call it a chance.

Scoring first was always St Johnstone’s best hope, if a slightly forlorn one. For the 19th time in 26 games, the Perth side had failed to score in the first half once again.

Rangers, meanwhile, were unbeaten in their last 84 games after leading at half-time, dating all the way back to February 2020 against Kilmarnock. This season alone they’d won all 18 games when leading at the interval.

Tenth in the Premiership, the omens looked grim for the home side. Five points clear of Ross County, there were few grounds for optimism. Less so when referee Matthew MacDermid showed no interest in a futile penalty claim after Connor Smith fell under the challenge of James Tavernier. The claim was thin gruel.

Rangers almost killed them with the first attack of the second half. Fabio Silva met a Diomande cross flush on the volley with the first attack of the second half, forcing Mitov to pull off a terrific save low at his right hand post.

The ineffectual Wright was replaced by Dujon Sterling at the interval. And the substitute should have done better with a Todd Cantwell cross clipped towards his head. Any sort of decent contact and he would have.

In these situations a one-goal advantage can become a tense and edgy place to be. As Celtic will attest.

The absence of attacking menace from Saints offered Rangers comfort and assurance. If any team looked like scoring it was them, the arrival of Cyriel Dessers and Ross McCausland with 20 minutes to play Clement’s attempt to kill the game off.

The second goal came from a penalty with 11 minutes to play. When Sterling charged down a Graham Carey clearance and chased the ball into the area, he was tripped by Andrew Considine after reaching the ball first.

Referee MacDermid was a rabbit caught in the headlights. Looking to his nearside assistant for guidance, none was forthcoming. After treatment for an injury to Carey, the referee was finally referred to the pitchside monitor where the outcome was a foregone conclusion. A clear spot-kick, the wonder is that the officials missed it first time around. The award was of the blatant variety.

A hush descended on the two stands brimming with Rangers fans as Tavernier prepared to take the spot kick. Despatching the ball high to the left of Mitov, the away support finally found their voice.

More so after the award of a second penalty on VAR’s advice. This one reflected the contentious nature of the handball rule, Luke Robinson turning his back to a shot by Tom Lawrence as it struck his outstretched right arm. While the St Johnstone player wasn’t facing the ball, the letter of the law states that his arm was in an unnatural position.

This time Tavernier put the ball the other side of goal, the outcome the same as first time around. And Rangers were top of the league.

 

Source: Daily Mail

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