RANGERS closed the gap to a point at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership with a stunning 5-0 victory over Aberdeen at Ibrox Stadium.
A well-taken penalty from James Tavernier opened the scoring on 20 minutes before Greg Stewart bagged his first competitive goal for the Light Blues against his former club with five minutes of the first half remaining.
In the second a stunning header from Alfredo Morelos, another cool spot kick from Tavernier and a fine lobbed finish from super sub Jermain Defoe gave the Light Blues a thoroughly deserved win over Derek McInnes’ side and, with Celtic drawing with Hibernian at Easter Road earlier in the day, it proved to be a very good day for Steven Gerrard and his in-form players.
After four wins on the bounce the Gers stars walked out – with Stewart, Nikola Katic and Steven Davis back in the starting eleven – to a packed Ibrox, with the fans in red, white and blue once again creating a great atmosphere, which continued as the action got under way.
Both teams tried to start the match in a positive manner, with Lewis Ferguson blasting an ambitious shot from 25 yards high over Allan McGregor’s goal.
At the other end of the pitch a deep corner found Morelos, who headed the ball back into the danger area. Goldson connected with it but couldn’t get enough purchase on his header to beat Joe Lewis in the Aberdeen goal.
On eight minutes Morelos had a shot from 20 yards but it trickled wide. Davis then clipped a great ball over the visitors’ defence to Ojo, who was played onside by Shay Logan. The on-loan Liverpool winger’s touch was poor and he blazed over.
Rangers kept the pressure on, with Stewart up next to hit a good shot which was almost identical to Morelos’ earlier effort as it went a foot wide of Lewis’ right-hand post.
Aberdeen were now sitting back and letting the Gers players have possession, with the lively Davis and industrious Ryan Jack, in particular, seeing a lot of the ball.
On 18 minutes however, Morelos made a burst into the Dons’ 18 yard box and Zak Vyner’s clumsy challenge on the Colombian gave referee Bobby Madden no option but to point to the spot.
Tavernier stepped up and, with Lewis diving to his left, he went central and high to put his side a goal up.
Rangers should have doubled their advantage immediately after putting their noses in front. Davis played a clever pass through Aberdeen’s defence to Morelos in the box. He could, and probably should, have shot first time with Lewis coming off his line, but instead he cut inside the goalkeeper, allowing defenders to get back and block his effort.
After a really positive spell of the game which Rangers dominated, the quality dipped somewhat, with Gerrard showing his frustration in the technical area.
A second goal was needed and on 40 minutes it was Stewart who got it. Tavernier’s cross was met by the forward and his header was brilliantly saved by Lewis, who tipped the ball onto the post.
It came back to him, however, and he coolly rolled it into the back of the net in front of a jubilant Broomloan Road Stand.
The second half started the way the first had ended, with Rangers in great form and looking to attack at every opportunity.
Davis, who was named man of the match, was again pulling the strings and two minutes in he played a brilliant pass to Ojo who clipped a left-foot cross aimed for Morelos at the back post. An Aberdeen player got their first, however, to head clear and Tavernier volleyed the spinning ball over from 16 yards.
Stewart was then unlucky to hit the post before the rampant Gers made it 3-0 with a stunning goal on 50 minutes. Barisic curled an absolute peach of a cross for Morelos who found the net with an equally brilliant header.
The home support were, quite rightly, enjoying what they were seeing and before the hour mark the Aberdeen fans in the ground must have been fearing the worst when Jermain Defoe replaced Ojo and immediately smashed a shot into the side netting.
It was relentless football from the Light Blues and Arfield was desperately unlucky not to get on the scoresheet when he jinked into a shooting position in the box and his net-bound drive struck a defender and went over.
A fourth goal wasn’t far away though and again it came from a penalty kick. Stewart was bundled to the ground as he went to meet a Tavernier cross. Madden again pointed to the spot and the club’s number two again showed great confidence to fire the ball into the middle of the net from 12 yards.
With Brandon Barker and George Edmundson now on, replacing Morelos and Davis, Rangers retained an intensity to their play in the latter stages with the impressive Stewart going inches wide with a terrific, curling shot from 25 yards with 78 minutes on the clock.
It was Defoe, however, who got his side’s fifth goal of a memorable afternoon, the striker latching on to a defensive mistake before he produced a wonderful lob over Lewis and into the net.
That was the icing on the cake for the Ibrox faithful who witnessed their team on top form this afternoon, with excellent individual performances all over the pitch.
RANGERS: McGregor, Tavernier, Katic, Goldson, Barisic, Arfield, Davis (Edmundson 76), Jack, Ojo (Defoe 58), Morelos (Barker 68), Stewart
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Kamara, Halliday, King
GOALS: Tavernier 20pen, Stewart 40, Morelos 50, Tavernier 70pen, Defoe 80
ABERDEEN: Lewis, Logan, Leigh, Devlin, McGinn (E. Ross 82), Hedges, Cosgrove (Main 86), McLennan (Gallagher 70), Ferguson, Campbell, Vyner
SUBS NOT USED: Cerny, Anderson, S. Ross, Barron
REF: Bobby Madden