Stephen Halliday's Rangers verdict: Ryan Jack and Joe Aribo star in perfect 150 for Steven Gerrard
The 5-0 rout of Ross County at Ibrox wasn’t absolutely flawless and the perfectionist in Gerrard will no doubt have been irked by a spell at the start of the second half when his players switched off briefly.
But by that stage they were already in cruise control, courtesy of first half goals from Ryan Kent, Filip Helander and Joe Aribo. The afterburners were then fired up for the closing half hour of a largely one-sided contest, ignited by the return from a two-month injury lay-off of Ryan Jack.
The midfielder looked as if he had never been away, bringing renewed momentum to Gerrard’s side. Goals from Jack and Connor Goldson saw Rangers finish the afternoon firmly on the front foot and 23 points clear of Celtic at the top of the Premiership table.
For some time now, it has been a question of when and not if Rangers will clinch their 55th Scottish title. On this evidence, they have absolutely no desire to prolong the procession towards their coronation any longer than is absolutely necessary.
Sharing the load
A key facet of Rangers’ consistency and effectiveness this season has been the manner in which their goals have been spread throughout the squad.
No fewer than 18 of Gerrard’s players have now found their way onto the scoresheet so far, more than compensating for the difficulties Alfredo Morelos has encountered in finding the kind of prolific form which Rangers relied on so heavily in previous campaigns.
With Morelos drawing another blank here, Jack was among those who picked up the slack as he announced his return to action in fine style with his first goal of the season just five minutes after replacing Steven Davis just after the hour mark.
For all of Jack’s qualities which Rangers have missed in his absence, it’s fair to say a predatory instinct inside the opposition penalty area would not be top of that list.
But any striker would have been proud of Jack’s instinctive and precise first time finish which beat County goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw low to his left to make it 4-0 after an incisive combination between Cedric Itten and Ianis Hagi had cut open the visitors’ defence.
Job done in the first half
Rangers were already in complete command by that stage, albeit having gone through that sleepy period in the first 10 minutes after the break when the woodwork twice prevented County from pulling a goal back.
But the hard yards had all been done in the first half with the movement and urgency of Rangers’ play from middle to front proving simply too much for their relegation-threatened opponents to handle.
Kent, who has been gradually recapturing his optimum performance level in recent weeks, was a constant menace although the manner of his sixth-minute opener was unusual. The winger is not renowned for his aerial ability but his clever looping header from a Morelos knock back crept inside Laidlaw’s left hand post.
Such was Rangers’ dominance, they could even afford to scorn the opportunity to double their lead from 12 yards seven minutes later. It was a second consecutive failure from the spot from James Tavernier, having previously converted nine in a row since the start of the season, as his tepid effort was saved by Laidlaw after Alex Iacovitti had pulled Morelos down in the box.
While there may now be a debate over whether the Rangers captain retains spot-kick responsibilities in future fixtures, it was of little consequence here.
Rangers duly made it 2-0 in the 28th minute when Helander was able to take advantage of some socially-distanced defending from County at a Borna Barisic corner, the big Swede rising to head home his second goal of the season.
Aribo a class act
Aribo was next to get in on the act. As graceful a player as there is to watch anywhere in Scottish football right now, the Nigerian international can be guilty of holding onto the ball for just one touch too many on occasion.
But he got everything right with his sumptuous goal eight minutes before the break, weaving his way inside from the right beyond challenges from Charlie Lakin and Connor Randall before curling a shot around Laidlaw into the far corner of the net.
After Harry Paton and Iacovitti both struck the frame of the largely inactive Allan McGregor’s goal, Rangers were revitalised by the introduction of a raft of substitutes including Jack and Itten, the latter unfortunate not to have forced his way into the starting line-up on the back of his recent contributions.
The Swiss international forward caught the eye again as Rangers showed County no mercy in the closing stages with John Hughes’ men relieved only to concede once more before being able to head back up the A9.
It was more weak defending at a set piece which undid them again, Goldson the one to profit this time as he met a Barisic corner with a header which was far from clean but still managed to find its way past Laidlaw for the big defender’s eighth goal of the season.
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor, Tavernier (Patterson 70), Goldson, Helander, Barisic; Aribo (Itten 61), Davis (Jack 61), Kamara (Zungu 61); Hagi, Morelos (Defoe 61), Kent. Subs not used: McLaughlin, Bassey, Roofe, Balogun.
Ross County (5-3-2): Laidlaw, Naismith, Morris, Iacovitti, Hjelde, Randall (Watson 53); Draper (Tillson 70), Vigurs (Andreu 70), Lakin (Charles-Cook 59); Paton (Hylton 59), Shaw. Subs not used: Munro, Gardyne, Mckay, Donaldson.
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