RANGERS warmed up for a huge week with a convincing 3-1 win over Dundee at Ibrox this afternoon which extended Philippe Clement’s unbeaten start as manager to 12 games and moved them to within five points of cinch Premiership leaders Celtic.
Tony Docherty’s side started the league encounter strongly, took the lead in the fifth minute when Amadou Bakayoko netted at a Lyall Cameron corner and silenced the home crowd.
But Clement’s team were 3-1 up at half-time thanks to a Cyriel Dessers equaliser, a James Tavernier penalty which was given after a VAR check showed that Aaron Donnelly had pulled Abdallah Sima inside his own area and a Sima header.
Jose Cifuentes was ordered off in added-on time at the end of the opening 45 minutes after referee Kevin Clancy had viewed a replay of his late challenge on Bakayoko and upgraded his yellow card to a red.
Being reduced to 10 men, though, did not prevent Rangers from recording a comfortable triumph. Dujon Sterling came on for Todd Cantwell and Ross McCausland for Rabbi Matondo and they saw out the victory.
It will boost their confidence levels ahead of their Europa League meeting with Real Betis in Spain in Thursday and the Viaplay Cup final against Aberdeen at Hampden on Sunday.
Here are five talking points from the encounter.
PLUS CA CHANGE
The more things change, the more the stay the same.
Clement brought in no fewer than five new players for this outing. With games coming thick and fast during the festive period and with an important European fixture and a cup final looming, it made perfect sense for him to freshen things up. The midweek win over Hearts at Tynecastle, too, had been mentally and physically draining for those involved.
John Souttar came in for Connor Goldson at centre half, Borna Barisic took over from Ridvan Yilmaz and Cifuentes was given the nod in midfield in the absence of Tom Lawrence. Elsewhere, Matondo and Dessers got their chance as Danilo and McCausland dropped out.
Would, though, performing such extensive surgery on his starting line-up have a detrimental impact on performance levels and result in a precious point or points being shipped? The Rangers manager must have been cursing himself for making so many alterations as his team fell behind.
Jack Butland kept the hosts in front after Cameron had burst through the heart of his rearguard. The former England goalkeeper produced an instinctive one-handed save and pushed the attacking midfielder’s attempt past his left post. But the visitors edged ahead from the resultant corner.
Cameron floated the ball in to the edge of the six yard box, his team mate Donnelly nodded the delivery back to Bakayoko and the forward kept his cool and volleyed beyond Butland.
The tiny pocket of travelling supporters who were shoehorned into the corner in between the Broomloan Road Stand and the Sandy Jardine Stand went mental – as did Clement in his technical area.
Ultimately, though, his faith in his squad was more than justified. He clearly has the strength in depth he requires to enjoy a successful campaign at home and abroad. If he brings in a couple of quality additions in January it could make the title race very interesting indeed.
The Nigerian striker has not, it is far to say, always impressed onlookers since completing his £4.5m transfer from Italian outfit Cremonese during the summer.
But the 29-year-old, who did not get on the pitch in Gorgie on Wednesday night, proved his worth this afternoon. He showed great tenacity to pull Rangers level. He followed up an effort which was blocked and rifled, with the help of a slight deflection, into the top right corner. He worked hard thereafter.
Dessers showed no little skill too. His back heel to Todd Cantwell on the halfway line drew gasps of admiration from the stands and sent the playmaker racing forward. The instigator of the attack hared upfield and tested Trevor Carson from distance.
With Danilo looking set to be sidelined for some time with a knee injury which may require surgery, Clement will have been encouraged by the player’s contribution to an important result.
SIMA STRIKE RATE
The Brighton loanee leapfrogged Matt O’Riley of Celtic and went to the top the Premiership scoring charts when he rose above his marker Donnelly at a Tavernier corner and nodded into the Dundee net.
It was the ninth time the 22-year-old has been on target in the league this season and the 13th occasion in total.
Calls from supporters for Rangers to make the former Slavia Prague, Stoke and Angers man’s stay in Scotland permanent are sure to grow deafening in the coming weeks and months if he maintains his current strike rate.
This game provided the Ecuadorian internationalist, another who has some work to do to win around Rangers fans, with the ideal opportunity to show why former Ibrox manager Michael Beale had been eager to secure his services.
The £1.5m acquisition did not take it. His ordering off for a needless foul did not cost his side, who were leading 3-1 at that point, the win. But it could easily have been damaging. He has to be far smarter. He will now be banned for the Viaplay Cup final.
His manager showed that he too can be bit of a hothead. Clement picked up a yellow card from Clancy in the second half for mouthing off at fourth official Alan Muir on the touchline after Barisic had been booked.
Losing Owen Beck, the on-loan Liverpool left back who has probably been Dundee’s standout performer this term, to a minor groin strain was a serious blow to Docherty.
Beck may be at his best going forward and his chances to do so in Govan would have been limited. Still, the Dens Park side were not quite the same without him. The Welsh defender would have provided them with an invaluable out ball if he had been fit and could have eased the pressure on their backline with runs upfield.
However, the Championship champions showed why they have made such an impact in the top flight since returning at times and caused their opponents’ rearguard more than a few difficulties.
Luke McCowan got a shot away, Bakayoko went close with a glancing header after being supplied by Cameron and Joe Shaughnessy had a goal disallowed for a foul in the build-up in the first half and Cameron forced a save from Butland in the second.
Dundee will travel to Dingwall next Saturday to play Ross County hopeful of getting back to winning ways despite this reverse.