Hamilton 0 - 5 Rangers: Ruthless first-half propels Rangers to victory
Gerrard’s team have often appeared overly dependent this season on the talismanic qualities of Alfredo Morelos but they did not miss the presence of their leading marksman on this occasion as he completed his latest suspension.
Their five goals came from five different scorers, three of them in an eight-minute burst midway through the first half from Ryan Jack, Jermain Defoe and Scott Arfield quickly ensuring there would be no slip-up in a potentially awkward league fixture.
Captain James Tavernier made it 4-0 from the penalty spot a minute from the interval before substitute Kyle Lafferty completed the rout late in the second half.
It was a day when the focus was on the Rangers support as much as the players. Sadly, if predictably, not all of them heeded chairman Dave King’s strongly worded criticism of the sectarian abuse directed at Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke last Wednesday.
The same chant was repeated briefly by a small section of the visiting fans, bringing a needlessly sour note to what was otherwise a hugely positive afternoon from Rangers’ perspective.
Hamilton, deployed in what was intended to be an open and attack-minded formation by new boss Brian Rice, were simply picked apart by the visitors who relished the stretched nature of proceedings.
There were early warning signs aplenty for Accies of what was to come. Aaron McGowan made a brave and superbly timed interception to prevent Connor Goldson getting on the end of a dangerous Glen Kamara cross in the fifth minute as Rangers started with tempo and purpose.
Defoe should have opened the scoring six minutes later when he was played in by Jack but the veteran striker was too deliberate with his low shot which was saved with a degree of comfort by Gary Woods.
But the Hamilton ‘keeper was beaten when Jack took matters into his own hands to put Rangers ahead in the 16th minute. Receiving a pass from Ryan Kent, Jack cut inside from the left and placed a firm and precise shot beyond Woods left hand into the corner of the net from around 22 yards.
Barely a minute later, it was 2-0. Accies failed to regroup properly as they lost possession from the restart. It allowed Tavernier to surge into space on the right and his fine cross picked out Defoe who made no mistake this time with a powerful header beyond Woods from close range.
The shell-shocked home side tried to mount a response and 17-year-old Reegan Minmaugh, making his first starting appearance for the club, saw an effort cleared off the line by Goldson before Allan McGregor saved George Oakley’s follow-up header.
But Rangers remained firmly in control and made it 3-0 in the 24th minute. It was a seventh goal of the season for Arfield and he won’t score many better. Receiving the ball from Andy Halliday, the Canadian international midfielder thumped an unstoppable right foot shot high to Woods’ left into the roof of the net.
It was already a damage limitation exercise from Hamilton’s point of view and they managed to stem the tide for a spell as the intensity of Rangers’ work dropped a little. But there was more agony for the home fans with the 44th minute spot-kick award as Kent was flattened inside the area by Ziggy Gordon.
It was a straightforward decision for referee Nick Walsh and Tavernier stepped up to notch his 13th goal of the season, 11 of them from penalties, as he drove the the ball powerfully to the left of Woods.
Rice made a double substitution at the start of the second half, Alex Gogic and Scott Martin replacing Mimnaugh and David McMillan in a change of both personnel and formation aimed a reducing the freedom Rangers had enjoyed in dictating play from middle to front.
The Ibrox men continued to dominant, however, and only a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal prevented them from racking up a much heavier margin of victory. Candeias blazed their first good chance of the second period over, while Defoe saw a close range effort blocked by Woods.
Hamilton thought they had claimed a crumb of consolation when skipper Darian MacKinnon swept a shot beyond Allan McGregor but it was ruled out for offside.
Lafferty, introduced along with Steven Davis in a double switch by Gerrard midway through the second half, brought fresh energy to Rangers and was eventually rewarded for his efforts.
Having seen a close range header blocked by McGowan and then slid a low shot narrowly wide after getting on the end of a Tavernier cutback, the Northern Ireland striker ensured Rangers finally added to their tally two minutes from time. His first goal in the Premiership since September saw him provide a neat close range finish to a low cross from Candeias.