Rangers ended a difficult week on a positive note as they recovered from their draws with Aberdeen and Aris Limassol by overcoming St Mirren at Ibrox.

Abdallah Sima netted in either half to secure the points for Philippe Clement’s side and reduce Celtic’s lead in the Premiership title race once again.

It was a pleasing afternoon all round for Clement. The challenges continue to come thick and fast at home and abroad during a run that will shape Rangers’ ambitions this term.

Rangers hold up their end of the bargain

Last weekend, Rangers arrived at Pittodrie with the chance to capitalise on a Celtic stumble. It was, of course, one that they blew in wretched style as they missed the opportunity to close the gap at the top of the table. This time around, Clement’s side had seen their Old Firm rivals take care of business as they came from behind to beat St Johnstone. The ball was put back in the court of the blue half of Glasgow.

Rangers did what they had to do and took care of business. It wasn’t always pretty on the eye, but it was effective and relatively straightforward as Sima’s two efforts proved the difference. With the next derby at Parkhead now looming large at the end of December, Rangers knew that there was no margin for error here, especially after the vociferous reaction to their efforts in the previous days. Another slip-up here would have been unthinkable for Clement.

It was not to be, though, and Rangers were comfortable throughout as St Mirren caused them few problems. On an afternoon where the temperatures plummeted at Ibrox, there was enough in the performance and the result to raise the spirits of a support who had started asking questions about the quality and character of this group once again.

This was a case of game won and job done for Rangers. The challenge now is to have more occasions just like this while they maintain their push for European progression and domestic silverware.

Clement plays his selection hand

Clement opted to make five changes from the side that were held on European duty. None of those that dropped out of the side could have any complaints ahead of a fixture where there was an expectancy in terms of the performance as well as the result. Connor Goldson and Leon Balogun returned at the heart of the defence. In front of them, Jose Cifuentes dropped out after an ineffective showing in midweek and was replaced by Tom Lawrence. Ross McCausland’s place on the right was well-earned as Sam Lammers was removed from attack, for his sake as well as that of the team. Through the middle, Cyriel Dessers took over from Danilo.

There will have to be a degree of mixing and matching through this hectic festive schedule. Over the next week, Rangers face Hearts and Dundee and their European fate will be decided the following midweek ahead of their shot at the Viaplay Cup against Aberdeen. Clement still has injury concerns over Nicolas Raskin, Ryan Jack and Scott Wright but the squad does have a healthier look about it right now. The bench here was, for example, certainly stronger than it has been on several occasions this term and that is a positive that Clement can take going forward.

Goals arrive at the right times

Rangers have made life unnecessarily difficult for themselves in their last two outings by conceding avoidable goals to Aberdeen and Aris. It was imperative that they didn’t make the same mistake for the third time in a week.

Matches like this should all be about what Rangers do. If they operate with the right tempo and with the right purpose, then their quality should allow them to turn domination of possession into the three points. It was obvious what St Mirren were going to do as they sought to frustrate Rangers on and off the park. Jonah Ayunga was thwarted by Balogun early on and Caolan Boyd-Munce saw his effort well saved by Jack Butland. Half an hour in, referee Matthew MacDermid booked Marcus Fraser for time wasting, much to the fury of boss Stephen Robinson.

Just as the crowd were getting ready to vent their anger at the break, Rangers gave them something to cheer. Dessers and Todd Cantwell combined down the right before the Englishman ventured into the area. Sima lashed the ball beyond Zach Hemming to break the deadlock. It was one of few positive phases of play in a largely lethargic half and it saved Rangers from a hostile reception at the whistle. More importantly, it paved the way for Clement’s side to go on and claim the win.

Rangers need no reminding of what can happen to the mood around Ibrox when the clock ticks down but the scoreboard doesn’t tick over. The second goal, therefore, was timely as Sima produced a cool, clinical finish to roll the ball into the corner. With 20 minutes remaining, the game was won and the job was done.

Cantwell central to the action

The decision to withdraw Cantwell ten minutes before half-time on Thursday night was one which dominated the aftermath of the draw. A couple of days on, the fate of the Englishman was the main selection talking point for those that returned to Ibrox split on the situation.

Clement picked the wrong team against Aris but he rectified the mistake here. McCausland started on the right and Cantwell operated from his preferred central berth. It was a switch that would have heartened the support. It did, though, put the pressure firmly on Cantwell. He had no excuses and he had to deliver a performance.

His impact for most of the first half was muted. He couldn’t connect properly when James Tavernier nodded the ball into his path and he was marshalled well by the Buddies. On the stroke of the break, he came to the fore and played his part in the opening goal. As Sima celebrated, Cantwell continued his run from right to left and produced an emotive roar in the direction of the Union Bears, who had earlier chanted his name in support.

Cantwell was more prominent after the break. He created a couple of promising openings that were not finished off and saw an effort blocked from the edge of the area before he got another assist with a fine pass that sent Sima clear to double the advantage.

His exit with six minutes remaining was greeted warmly by the crowd. He was embraced by Clement, too, as the Belgian offered a word in his ear before he took his seat.

Dessers fails to take chance

The last time that Dessers started a Premiership fixture, he marked the occasion with a goal against Livingston. This was an ideal chance to ensure that history repeated itself but it wasn’t to be for the Nigerian.


The striker hadn’t been called upon as Rangers chased the game against Aberdeen or tried to come from behind against Aris. It was no surprise that he was needed here, though, as Clement rested Danilo ahead of the trip to Tynecastle on Wednesday evening. The sight of Dessers leading the line wasn’t one which would have filled the Ibrox crowd with much hope. It was a necessity on this occasion, though, and it highlighted the requirement for Clement to strengthen his No.9 options next month as Kemar Roofe again missed out completely.

Dessers only featured for an hour. He was applauded off the park on this occasion but his contribution wasn’t exactly an eye-catching one a couple of early chances and one just before his exit – as Hemming saved low on the angle – proved to be as close as he would come to a goal.

He has been worse than this, but he needs to be much better. Clement will persevere with him because he has to but it is unsustainable for Rangers to have this level of resources in the final third if they harbour genuine ambitions of winning the Premiership this term.