RANGERS remain eight points clear at the top of the Championship after a hard-fought victory over St Mirren in Paisley this afternoon.
A solitary Jason Holt strike in the first half ensured Mark Warburton’s side extended their winning run to 11 matches in the league ahead of next Sunday’s top of the table clash with Hibernian at Easter Road.
The manager made two changes from the side that defeated Livingston in the Petrofac Cup on Tuesday night with the injured Nathan Oduwa and also Dean Shiels making way for Kenny Miller and Gedion Zelalem.
There was a nervy moment for Warburton’s boys inside the opening minute as a loose clearance from James Tavernier fell to Scott Agnew 35-yards from Wes Foderingham’s goal, and the big keeper had to be alert to tip the Saints’ man’s effort over the top of the bar.
Jim Goodwin has something of a reputation that goes before him at times, and he found himself in referee Steven McLean’s book after only four minutes for a shocking challenge on Andy Halliday just beyond the halfway line, although fortunately the Gers man escaped injury.
The home side were dominating the opening exchanges, and former Ibrox striker Steven Thompson would have hoped to do better with a near-post header from a corner, before Rangers broke quickly and really ought to have taken the lead against the run of play.
A lovely interchange between Lee Wallace and Barrie McKay on the left wing saw the Rangers captain get to the byline and deliver a wonderful ball for the incoming and unmarked Kenny Miller, but he failed to sort his feet out sufficiently and skewed his shot wide of the target.
That was really as good as it got for the Light Blues inside the opening 20 minutes, with long-range efforts from James Tavernier and Jason Holt also inside that period not overly troubling Jamie Langfield in the home goal.
Partnering Thompson up front for the Buddies was another former Gers man in Calum Gallagher, and he came close to making the breakthrough when he was afforded time and space inside the area to turn before firing wide.
Looking on from the touchline, gaffer Warburton was less than impressed with his side’s play at times, but his afternoon was to get a whole lot better on the 25 minute mark as Jason Holt put the visitors in front with a quite outstanding goal.
Kenny Miller fed Martyn Waghorn out on the right, and he in turn found the little midfielder inside the box, who, from what looked to be an impossible angle, curled the ball into the opposite corner to hand his side a crucial lead.
St Mirren weren’t to be phased by that setback however as they continued to flood forward, and Stephen Mallan brought out a terrific save from Foderingham with a free-kick effort 25-yards out, before Rangers raced to the other end where Miller found himself being denied the second goal by the linesman’s flag.
McKay and Miller were to combine yet again minutes later, this time with the aid of a deflection on McKay’s cross, and with time and space to pick his spot, Miller shot wide of the target.
Miller was having one of those afternoon’s in front of goal it seemed ,and another chance went a begging for him, this time denied by a tremendous last-ditch Jack Baird challenge after being fed by Waghorn.
The close to the half was all Rangers however, and how Andy Halliday didn’t score is anyone’s guess when he was picked out unmarked and with time at the back post by Tavernier, but he seemed to take his eye off the ball and it slipped out for a goal kick.
Into the second half, and again St Mirren began on the front foot with Agnew bringing out yet another spectacular save from Wes Foderingham inside the opening minutes with another effort from distance.
At the other end, Gedion Zelalem did exceptionally well to keep what looked to be a ball heading for a goal-kick in play, and that led to Halliday getting another sight of goal from just outside the area, but Langfield was there to collect easily into his chest.
The chances at both ends weren’t flowing nearly as well as they were in the first half, although Barrie McKay came close for Gers when he wrapped his foot around the ball exceptionally well although the effort sailed just over the top of Langfield’s crossbar.
Substitute Nicky Clark then worked an opening for himself after being slipped in by McKay, but his shot was saved by Langfield and the gathered by the goalkeeper at the second attempt, before McKay fed Wallace for a shot minutes later that was again claimed by the goalie.
Clark had another chance in the final minute to wrap up the points, but 1-0 it finished ahead of what looks to be an extremely tasty trip to Leith next weekend.
ST MIRREN: Langfield, Kelly, Webster, Goodwin (Carswell, 67), Thompson, Howieson (McMullan 56), Mallan, Baird, Agnew, Watson, Gallagher (Shankland, 78).
SUBS NOT USED: Wilks, Conlan, Morgan, Cuddihy.
RANGERS (4-3-3): Foderingham; Tavernier, Ball, Kiernan, Wallace; Halliday, Zelalem (Shiels, 60), Holt; Miller (Clark, 60), Waghorn, McKay (Aird, 81).
SUBS NOT USED: Kelly, Thompson, Walsh, Hardie.
REFEREE: Mr Steven McLean