RANGERS have moved to the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership table after a hat-trick from Jermain Defoe and further goals from Connor Goldson and Borna Barisic gave Steven Gerrard’s men a stunning victory over Hamilton Academical at Ibrox Stadium.
Celtic were the league leaders at the start of the day but their 2-0 away defeat to Livingston opened the door for the Light Blues to leap above their Glasgow rivals and, as expected, they seized the opportunity with an impressive and ruthless display of attacking football.
Excellent first-half goals from Defoe and Goldson gave the Accies a mountain to climb after the break, and the Gers retained an impressive intensity to their play in the second forty-five, with Defoe adding two more and Barisic also finding the net with an outstanding trademark free-kick.
The result means Rangers are now in the Premiership’s top spot – two points clear of Celtic – going into the October international break with Hearts up next at Tynecastle in two weeks’ time.
On a drizzly day and in front of another huge crowd of 48,838 at Ibrox, Gerrard’s men attacked towards the Broomloan Stand in the first half and the atmosphere was electric following the news that Celtic had lost earlier in the day.
The manager made three changes to his starting eleven to face Accies, with George Edmundson, Greg Stewart and Defoe back in the team. They replaced Filip Helander, Ryan Jack and Alfredo Morelos, who all featured against Young Boys in midweek.
Rangers started positively on this occasion against Brian Rice’s side, with Owain Fon Williams making an early save from a Goldson header. The opening goal then arrived in the seventh minute, and what a great finish it was from the classy Defoe.
It was Greg Stewart who played a clever through pass to his English teammate who quickly glanced up before chipping the ball over the visitors’ number one – who had sprinted off his line – and into the net via the far post.
It was the forward’s tenth goal of an already impressive campaign and in the early stages of this match the Light Blues looked in the mood, with the Hamilton players struggling to cope with the home side’s pace and movement.
Stewart was again providing creativity in the last third of the pitch and on 25 minutes his left-foot drive from 25 yards fizzed past the post before Defoe, surprisingly, missed a snip.
Sheyi Ojo delivered a delightful cross to the back post for the 36-year-old who hit the post with his right boot from only four yards.
A second goal was coming though and on 35 minutes Goldson provided it with another cracker.
The big defender strolled out of defence with the ball and played it wide to James Tavernier before continuing his run into the Accies’ 18-yard box without anyone following him.
Tavernier’s return cross was so precise for the Gers number 6 who powered a header past Fon Williams to make it 2-0.
In the next attack, the visitors’ Ronan Hughes hit a decent shot from 20 yards which went a few feet over Allan McGregor’s crossbar, but this was as close as Hamilton came to pulling a goal back in a first half Rangers dominated from start to finish.
Indeed, the home side should have had an opportunity to score a third from the penalty spot, but ref Nick Walsh somehow failed to see a clear hand ball from Marcus Fjortoft from yet another dangerous Tavernier delivery.
After visiting the Rangers Training Centre yesterday, Paul Gascoigne came out at half-time for the Rising Stars half-time draw and the fans in red, white and blue almost took the roofs off the four Ibrox stands with a rapturous applause for one of the club’s greatest ever players.
The positive atmosphere in the stadium continued as the match restarted, with Fon Williams producing a good save from Arfield after he had played a tidy one-two with Defoe to get into a shooting position.
But a minute after the hour mark goal number three arrived for the Gers and it was a Borna Barisic special.
Defoe was brought down by Sam Stubbs 25 yards from the Accies goal and it looked the perfect distance for the club’s in-form Croatian left-back.
He took just two steps and whipped a superb free-kick over the wall and into the postage stamp corner of the net to the delight of the Ibrox faithful.
Two minutes later and Hamilton were four goals down and again it was a moment of magic from the Defoe.
The electric number nine received the ball with his back to goal but spun away from Accies skipper Brian Easton with ease before shooting low across Fon Williams and into the far corner of the net.
With Matt Polster and Jamie Murphy now on from the bench – the latter making his first appearance for the Gers first team in 14 months – Defoe completed his brilliant hat-trick with 71 minutes on the clock.
Stewart jinked past a defender in the box but his shot was blocked by the Accies busy keeper. It came back out to Defoe who blasted the ball into the roof of the net with the confidence of a man at the top of his game.
Now 5-0 down the last thing the Accies would have wanted to see was Alfredo Morelos being introduced to the game, but that’s what happened in the 74th minute, with the Colombian replacing Ojo.
Unfortunately, there was not enough time for Buffalo to get on the scoresheet but that didn’t matter at the final whistle, with the Rangers players receiving a standing ovation from their supporters for another five-star display, with Defoe deservedly named man of the match.
RANGERS: McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Edmundson, Barisic, Davis (Murphy 64), Kamara, Arfield (Polster 64), Ojo (Morelos 73), Defoe, Stewart
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Halliday, Aribo, Katic
GOALS: Defoe 7, 63, 71 Goldson 34, Barisic 61
HAMILTON: Fon Williams; McMann, McKenna, Fjortoft (Hamilton 68), Oakley, Alston, Gogic, Hughes, Beck (Smith 59), Easton, Stubbs
SUBS NOT USED: Southwood, Miller, Cunningham, MacKinnon, Ogkmpoe
REF: Nick Walsh