RANGERS opened-up the second half of the Scottish Premiership season with victory over St Mirren at Ibrox tonight.
Jermain Defoe’s first-half strike was the difference between the sides as Gers kept up the pace at the top of the table.
From the side which defeated Stranraer here in Govan in the Scottish Cup on Friday, Steven Gerrard made no-less than six changes.
Wes Foderingham, Nathan Patterson, George Edmundson, Andy Halliday, Scott Arfield and Jordan Jones all switched to the bench, with their places in the XI taken by Allan McGregor, Jon Flanagan, captain for the evening Connor Goldson, Borna Barisic, Glen Kamara and Ryan Kent.
Gers were almost ahead inside a minute as Barisic picked-out Joe Aribo inside the box, but with his back to goal, he was unable to get much power into his back-heel effort which looped into the gloves of Vaclav Hladky.
Jermain Defoe was next to try his luck on the volley from 25-yards as a Conor McCarthy clearance landed at his feet, but the shot went just wide of the right upriht.
Saints were dealt a blow as their captain Kyle Magennis injured himself in tacking Jon Flanagan after just four minutes, meaning he had to be stretchered off and replaced by Ilkay Durmus – though Magennis received a warm reception as he was carried around the Ibrox pitch.
Gers could have been forgiven for that stoppage of around four minutes killing their momentum, but they quickly got back up to a super level of intensity, with their movement around the box causing Saints all sorts of problems.
A minute’s applause was held on 13 minutes to remember young supporter Ayden Cochrane who tragically passed away earlier this week.
Nikola Katic headed a Kent corner just over as Gers came close again, while Kent was denied at close-range by Hladky following a neat flick from Joe Aribo to put him in.
Katic had another header, this time from a Barisic corner, go straight at the goalkeeper before finally, the deadlock was broken on 34 minutes.
This time, Barisic drilled a ball into the six-yard box, and waiting there to convert – as he has his whole career – was Jermain Defoe.
The cross from the Croatian took a slight deflection on its way into the area, and that was enough to take out the Saints defence and Hladky, with the grateful Defoe never missing from close range.
In injury-time at the end of the half, Goldson knocked-down a Barisic corner to Aribo, but again with his back to goal, the Nigerian international couldn’t convert.
Into the second half, and Steven Davis had a 25-yard drive go just over the bar, while Defoe almost profited from a loose clearance from Saints at the front-post on the end of a Davis free-kick, though he poked wide.
Barisic had a dipping effort well-held by Hladky, while substitute Sheyi Ojo was unlucky with a shot from the edge of the area which deflected only just wide.
Fellow replacement Scott Arfield then had a golden opportunity to kill the game in the final minute, but his strike from 12-yards after good setup play from Defoe was straight at Hladky.
Defoe himself should then have wrapped matters up with the final kick of the ball as he and Kent broke from a St Mirren corner, but the striker flashed a shot over the bar from close range.
RANGERS: McGregor; Flanagan, Goldson, Katic, Barisic; Jack, Davis, Kamara (Arfield, 69); Aribo (Ojo, 80), Defoe, Kent.
SUBS: Foderingham, Edmundsn, Halliday, Jones, Patterson.
ST MIRREN: Hladky, McGinn, Waters, McCarthy,Magennis (Durmus, 7), Flynn, Obika, Foley, Morias (Andreu, 77), Famewo, MacPherson (Mullen, 87).
SUBS: Cooke, Erahahon, Lyness, Henderson.
REFEREE: Nick Walsh