RANGERS earned a hard-fought three points against Morton tonight to restore their five point advantage over Hibernian at the top of the Championship table.
Goals either side of half time from Kenny Miller and Barrie McKay were enough to see off the challenge of a spirited ‘Ton side, and Mark Warburton’s boys even had to overcome a quite baffling red card for Andy Halliday to play the last 18 minutes with 10-men.
Unlike most Gers matches of late, it took the visitors nine minutes to feel their way into the game, but with their first chance, they really ought to have opened the scoring when Kenny Miller peeled off his marker at the back-post to meet James Tavernier’s cross at the back post, but he contrived to head wide of the target.
Morton, to their credit, were working incredibly hard to close down the Light Blues all over the park, and as such, the game was incredibly scrappy with goalmouth chances at a premium.
That was until Rangers earned their break with 26 minutes on the clock to grab a crucial lead.
From the edge of the area, Andy Halliday took-on the shot at goal but the ball deflected off what appeared to be the hand of the blocking Thomas O’Ware and spun into the path of Kenny Miller to bury the ball beyond Derek Gaston.
Immediately afterwards, Gers threatened to make it 2-0 from a Barrie McKay corner kick which was met by Danny Wilson and nodded down and into the path of Martyn Waghorn who acrobatically tried to hook the ball over his head towards the goal but his superb effort slipped just wide of the target with Gaston beaten.
The home side responded, and only a terrific last-ditch tackle from Rob Kiernan prevented Denny Johnstone from tapping home a Declan McManus cross while at the other end, Rangers looked to add to their lead when a lovely interchange between Waghorn and Tavernier saw Gedion Zelalem played-in, but his shot was straight at Gaston as his search for his maiden Gers goal goes on.
Waghorn’s industry, as ever, was highly impressive, and he saw a curling effort deflected behind for a corner, and then an Andy Halliday shot found only the gloves of Gaston after he had made a bursting run through midfield as Warburton’s men ended the half on a high.
Into the second half, and it was the home side who had the first sight of goal as a McManus drive along the ground from 20-yards just curved around the outside of Wes Foderingham’s right-hand post.
Whatever ‘Ton boss Jim Duffy had said to his side at half time appeared to give them renewed energy as they continued their assualt on the Rangers goal with McManus again coming close, this time finding the gloves of Foderingham from just beyond the penalty spot.
Rangers were toiling, but when their first chance to give themselves some breathing space arrived, they failed to take it as an inch-perfect ball from midfield from sub Dean Shiels was played into the path of Miller, but with only Gaston to beat, he skewed his shot wide.
Barrie McKay then took matters into his own hands with a thundering 25-yard drive which cannoned off the underside of the crossbar and dropped for Waghorn inside the six-yard box but he couldn’t sort out his feet and his eventual effort was fired over the bar.
McKay, who had made the switch into midfield with the introduction of Harry Forrester, was causing all sorts of problems all of a sudden, and he finished off a superb break to give Rangers a cushion.
Breaking from his own half, he played a neat one-two with Miller on the edge of the area before firing low beyond the goalkeeper once inside the area to put his side two goals to the good with 19 minutes left to play.
Ordinarily, that would have seen the Gers with the game all-but won, but major controversy followed in the aftermath of the goal with Andy Halliday sent-off for a second yellow after allegedly over-celebrating the goal in the middle of the pitch.
It was a completely bizarre incident, and each of Warburton, David Weir and Jim Stewart had to be spoken to by referee Barry Cook as they, understandably, were left enraged by the incident.
Regardless of that set-back, Rangers set-about seeing the game out in a professional manner, and they could have added to their tally twice through Harry Forrester, but twice Gaston denied his efforts.
As the game ticked-down to a conclusion and with Morton tiring, Waghorn should have grabbed his customary goal when slipped-in by the outstanding McKay, but he fired over the bar with only the keeper to beat.
RANGERS: Foderingham,Tavernier, Wallace, Wilson, Kiernan, Zelalem (Forrester, 58), Halliday, Law (Shiels, 58), McKay, Miller, Waghorn.
SUBS NOT USED: Bell,Thompson, Hardie, Clark.
MORTON: Gaston, Pepper, Kilday, O’Ware, Russell, McCluskey, Forbes, McKee, Barr, Johnstone, McManus.
SUBS NOT USED: McGowan, Lamie, Miller, Scullion, Tidser, Samuel.