RANGERS returned to the top of the table with a narrow win over Hamilton, the Gers now sit level on points with second-placed Kilmarnock but with a game in hand and a point ahead of third placed Celtic.
A goal on three minutes was the only difference between the sides at Ibrox despite a complete dominance from the Gers. After Daniel Candeias struck early with a well taken strike Steven Gerrard’s team failed to add another in a frustrating afternoon.
Candeias was one of three changes to the Light Blues starting line-up after being knocked out of the Europa League in midweek. While the Portuguese made the difference the other two changes, Kyle Lafferty and Eros Grezda both had multiple chances but couldn’t convert. Ultimately though Rangers ground out a vital win in the Premiership just days after exiting Europe.
Rangers laid siege to the Hamilton goal from the off at Ibrox. Kyle Lafferty pounced on a mistake inside a minute by Gary Woods – the Hamilton keeper finding himself caught cold out of his box, nearly as far as the corner flag, but couldn’t profit. Tavernier whipped in a dangerous ball seconds later and the Northern Irishman rose highest to head off the woodwork.
Three minutes hadn’t even gone and Hamilton were camped in. Rangers had applied so much pressure that their next move saw them take the lead. Lafferty, involved again, squared a ball from the left and Matt Killgallon skewed his clearance straight into the path of Candeias. The Portuguese, restored to the starting line-up after suspension in the Europa League midweek, ran his laces through the ball and tucked his fifth of the season inside the post.
Rangers had to be patient in their bid to add another. Hamilton meanwhile had barely left their own half. On 22 minutes Eros Grezda took advantage of some slack defending from Aaron McGowan as he tried to prevent a corner. The Accies defender passed straight into the feet of the Albanian and after he steadied himself he lashed a shot that looked like it might sneak in at the near post. A nick off the boot of Ziggy Gordon helped it graze the base of the upright and out of play.
Woods was then forced to tip over from the resulting corner. Tavernier played it short from the left to Arfield and then collected it back off the Canadian to whip a ball in on top of the Accies keeper. It sent the stopper scrambling backwards and he did well to avert the danger.
Gareth McAuley had Rangers best chance before the break to make it two. It came from a free-kick which was awarded on the left after Gordon hauled Ryan Jack down by his neck. Borna Barisic and Tavernier stood over it but it was the Croatian who elected to take the dead ball on, curling an in swinger into the six yard box. The Gers towering Northern Irishman didn’t even need to jump to claim the header in a packed area. He nodded into the ground but Woods got low to palm it away.
Lafferty started the second-half as he began he first, firing a warning shot at Accies and Woods. Grezda and Barisic were paired up down the left for the first time since joining the club together, a partnership they have honed at Din Zagred and then NK Osijek. They chemistry started to show when Grezda released the left-back down the flank and he glanced a cross along the by-line. Lafferty was waiting to try and poke it home but fired into the side netting instead.
Hamilton then mustered their first shot on target of the game on 53 minutes. Scott McMann collected a cross field ball in the left channel and found himself with space to run into. Tavernier had been caught short and raced back to cover, reaching the Accies man just as he got his shot off on the angle. Allan McGregor dived to his left to produce his first save of the game.
Grezda had a chance when he snuck in on the left and struck low but Woods dealt with it. Hamilton would then become indebted to their keeper on 65 minutes when he somehow kept a Lafferty header out. Barisic swept a ball across field to Connor Goldson at the far post and the centre-half nodded across goal to the Gers striker. The 31-year-old connected as well as he could have wished for and then miraculously Woods clawed the ball out of the air when it looked bound for the back of the net. For all their chances Rangers couldn’t alter the scoresheet with the game ebbing away.
Arfield dug one out of nowhere with 13 minutes to go, lifting the ball on the edge of the area and nearly nestling it into the top corner but it drifted just wide much to Ibrox’s frustration. The visitors then had their own chance when sub Fredrik Brustard’s chance was snuffed out by Goldson as he raced across his penalty area for a last ditch tackle. It was starting to become tense for the Gers going into the final 10 minutes with such a narrow lead.
Lafferty had yet another chance to get himself on the scoresheet with eight minutes left when Middleton looped a ball straight onto his head but his header was weak.
RANGERS: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, McAuley, Barisic, McCrorie (Middleton 58’), Arfield, Jack, Candeias (Halliday 81’), Lafferty, Grezda
Subs not used: Foderingham, Worrall, Flanagan, Coulibaly, Dallas
Goals: Candeias 3’
HAMILTON: Woods, McGowan, McMann, Gordon, Kilgallon, Imrie, Bingham (Brustard 74’), Keatings, Taiwo (Boyd 83’), MacKinnon, Sowah.
Subs not used: Marsden, Tshiembe, Penny, Want, Monlouis.