DAVID BATES was the hero with an 86th-minute winner to defeat a stubborn Kilmarnock outfit at Ibrox Stadium.
After struggling to break down the Ayrshire outfit for much of the game, Bates bundled home late-on to secure a crucial three points for Jimmy Nicholl and Jonatan Johansson’s side.
Given the week just past at Rangers, with the low of Sunday at Parkhead and the departure of Graeme Murty on Tuesday, to the amazing high of Steven Gerrard being unveiled as the club’s new manager yesterday, it was always going to be interesting to see how the players reacted this afternoon.
And, in front of a re-energised crowd buoyed by the Gerrard news, they began the match pretty well, moving the ball at pace as they looked for a way through the well-organised Kilmarnock defence.
A fine ball in from Daniel Candieas presented Alfredo Morelos with the first opening, but under severe pressure from Kirk Broadfoot, he could only poke wide.
Morelos then turned provider for Jason Cummings, forcing Jamie McDonald into a save from a tight angle, before Jamie Murphy unleased a powerful shot from around 25-yards which whistled just wide and Jason Holt, on the half-volley, sent one just over the bar.
Kilmarnock too were making a game of it, and the 27th minute saw Jak Alnwick make a stunning double save. After firstly denying Kris Boyd’s venomous free-kick, the rebound fell to Aaron Tshibola four yards out, and somehow, Alnwick managed to get something on his effort to send it behind for a corner.
There was an increasingly tetchy feel to the game following that, with numerous niggly fouls and non-decisions from the referee in the eyes of the home fans. The latter added fuel to the atmosphere as half-time approached, with Gers beginning to push for the opener.
A terrific Andy Halliday cross was headed onto the crossbar by Murphy as the Light Blues once again came close.
Half-time saw Ross McCrorie replace Cummings, and the youngster came close within two minutes of the restart with a lethal 30-yard drive which only just rounded McDonald’s post.
McCrorie then came close again, receiving the ball from Jamie Murphy with his back to goal inside the box before spinning and firing wide, while Graeme Dorrans became the latest to try his luck from distance, again, his effort cleared the crossbar.
A wicked cross from Morelos was centimetres away from being connected to by Murphy who had made a run into the six-yard box as Gers ratched-up the pressure, before McCrorie had a third chance, heading a Sean Goss corner over the bar.
Just when it seemed the game was headed for a goalless draw, Rangers took a dramatic lead with just four minutes remaining.
After a free-kick routine had broken down, the ball reached Goss out on the left. He curled a beautiful ball to the back post, and waiting there was David Bates to bundle the ball into the back of the net to send Ibrox wild.
Killie had a late chance from a Greg Kiltie header which went just over, but Gers saw it out to claim a crucial three points.
RANGERS: Alnwick, Tavernier, Dorrans, Halliday, Morelos, Candeias, Holt (Goss, 74), Bates, Cummings (McCrorie, 45), Murphy, Martin.
SUBS: Kelly, Hodson, Rossiter, Alves, Docherty.
KILMARNOCK: McDonald, O’Donnell, Boradfoot, Dicker, Boyd (Kiltie, 72), Jones, Taylor, Findlay, Mulumbu (Wilson, 81), Brophy (Erwin, 63), Tshibola.
SUBS: Fasan, Boyd, Simpson, Burke.
REFEREE: Mr Alan Muir
ATTENDANCE: 49, 703.