Leaden Rangers get back to winning ways: Clement toys with fans emotions, Dessers unable to deliver, Bebeto celebrations
Abdallah Sima scored twice – one in each half – for his tenth and 11th goals of an impressive individual campaign, the Senegalese’s precision finishing piercing the resistance of a Saints defence that held firm for long spells but buckled at those two crucial moments.
Victory, regardless of how it was achieved, was imperative for Rangers on the back of the draws with Aberdeen and Aris Limassol and with Celtic having similarly eked out a victory at St Johnstone earlier in the day. Next up for them in what is shaping up to be a demanding month is a trip to play Hearts on Wednesday night and they can at least travel to Tynecastle with renewed confidence on the back of this win and clean sheet.
Philippe Clement had toyed with the emotions of the support when he named his line-up, dropping the much-maligned Sam Lammers – one of five changes – but reinstating another who has found fan favour hard to come by in Cyriel Dessers. The striker was given an hour and had a role in the opening goal but didn’t do a huge amount else to win over the doubters. Danilo came on to replace him and Rangers instantly looked a more dangerous threat, with the St Mirren defence having to finally worry about a striker with pace.
Todd Cantwell maintained his place despite his huff at being substituted in midweek, shifted to a more central role to accommodate man-of-the-moment Ross McCausland on the wing. Cantwell flitted about enthusiastically and always looked to come into contact with the ball, while McCausland showed further hints of his potential.
But if the aim was to make Rangers a more potent attacking threat then for long spells it didn’t really work. It was stodgy fare, the home side predictably bossing the ball but unable to break down a five-man St Mirren backline who defended stoically, reducing Rangers to mainly half-chances.
Just as the Ibrox crowd, however, were clearing their throats to boo the team off the park at half-time again, Rangers lightened the mood with an excellent goal. For once St Mirren were caught out of position up the field and Rangers pounced, the ball worked wide to McCausland who sent Dessers running clear. From there the move went through Cantwell before finding Sima who finished well.
The second half followed a similar pattern as Rangers searched for the second goal that would confirm the victory and St Mirren – usually through the tireless Jonah Ayunga – probing sporadically for an equaliser. The next goal was always going to be decisive and it went the way of Rangers. Cantwell’s probing ball sent Sima through and the forward was never likely to miss as he slotted his shot beyond Zach Hemming before performing the Bebeto rocking-the-baby celebration as a nod to recently becoming a father.
St Mirren haven’t won on this ground since 1991 and never looked like ending that wretched record on this occasion. They had one decent chance in the first half – Caolan Boyd-Munce’s curled effort was well pushed away by Jack Butland – but once Rangers belatedly moved in front there was only likely to be one outcome and so it proved.