A CLASSY Rangers performance saw the Light Blues cruise to their biggest ever victory over Ross County in the freezing Highlands tonight.
Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Jack both grabbed braces in the rout to keep them level on points at the top of the Scottish Premiership table ahead of the League Cup semi-final with Hearts at Hampden on Sunday.
From the side which defeated Motherwell late-on in the league on Sunday, boss Steven Gerrard named five changes.
Out went the injured Allan McGregor and Brandon Barker, while Steven Davis, Greg Stewart and Jermain Defoe switched to the bench. Their places in the XI were taken by Wes Foderingham, Ryan Jack, Glen Kamara, Sheyi Ojo and Alfredo Morelos.
It was the visitors who had the best of the opening moments on what was a bitterly cold night on the Black Isle, and they should have been ahead inside four minutes.
A powerful Ryan Jack run took him to the edge of the area before he slipped the ball right for Sheyi Ojo. He steadied himself, and from a closing angle with goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw coming out, struck the far post with an effort.
Terrific interplay between Alfredo Morelos and Scott Arfield then ended with the Canadian captain bringing a terrific save out of Laidlaw, the goalkeeper flying left to divert Arfield’s shot from 12 yards wide for a corner.
It was all Rangers, and the opening goal arrived on 20 minutes, and yet again, it was Morelos there to finish off some superb football from the visitors.
Joe Aribo threaded an excellent ball through the County defence, and into the path of Ojo, who had drifted right. The winger got his head up and spotted the incoming Morelos at the back post, with the Colombian celebrating his inclusion in the squad for their upcoming international fixtures with Peru and Ecuador with a tap-in at the back-post for his 17th of the season.
Morelos came close to a second with a shot from 25-yards before the second for Gers arrived on the half-hour mark thanks to Ryan Jack’s second of the season – and his first in the league this campaign.
After a Borna Barisic cross was cleared only as far as the midfielder, from 20-yards out to the left of goal, he curled a wonderful effort into the bottom-left corner to hand his side an early and deserved cushion.
A scramble from a Tavernier corner almost ended with Morelos burrowing the ball out for another, but he shot wide, but on this red-hot form, Gers looked capable of scoring every time they went forward – and indeed they grabbed number three on 37 minutes – and once more, it was Ryan Jack with the finish!
On a rare foray into the Gers’ half, a County attack broke down, and it was Jack who won the ball, puffed his chest out and burst out, heading for goal.
He sprayed it wide for Aribo, who, when he reached the left edge of the box, did brilliantly get the ball onto Scott Arfield who turned and picked out the incoming Jack who finished in that same right corner, this time from inside the ‘D’.
Aribo himself came close with an effort which flashed just wide in the two minutes of injury-time at the end of the half – but the three goal lead the Light Blues held at the break was well merited for an excellent first-half showing.
There was no let-up at the start of the second half, with super Aribo footwork inside the area seeing him find space for a shot which came back off the post from 10-yards out.
Jack then came so-close to his hat-trick, a 25-yard drive whistling only just past, while Morelos was denied by Laidlaw from close-range.
County had offered nothing in the game in an attacking sense, though they almost had one back on 69 minutes as a Ross Draper effort took a massive deflection and came back off the upright with Wes Foderingham stranded.
Gers did find a fourth goal on 71 minutes, however, and it came from Alfredo Morelos’ final touch of the night before he was replaced by Jermain Defoe.
Aribo again did terrifically, feeding Morelos in the left channel, and with the angle against him, he blasted him into the far corner much to the delight of the huge traveling support behind that goal as he made it 18 for the campaign.
Defoe himself had an opportunity soon after coming on, heading a James Tavernier cross over – but 4-0 is how it finished to leave broad smiles on the faces of the huge support as they make the long trip back down the A9.
RANGERS: Foderingham; Tavernier, Helander, Goldson, Barisic (Halliday, 54); Jack (Murphy, 63), Aribo, Kamara; Ojo, Morelos (Defoe, 72), Arfield.
SUBS NOT USED: Firth, Davis, Katic, Stewart.
ROSS COUNTY: Laidlaw, Fraser, Kelly, Fontaine, Draper, Grivosti (Watson, 41), Spence, Foster, Graham (Gardyne, 77), Chalmers (McKay, 60), Stewart.
SUBS NOT USED: Dixon-Hodge, Mullin, Henderson, Spittal.
REFEREE: Bobby Madden