Rangers retained their 16-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership by avoiding a repeat of their League Cup defeat to St Mirren with ease.
The home side looked capable of two wins over Steven Gerrard’s side within a fortnight early on.
But first-half strikes from Kemar Roofe and Alfredo Morelos were enough to send Rangers into Saturday’s Old Firm derby on the back of 13 straight league wins.
Jonathan Obika scooped over St Mirren’s best chance shortly before the opener.
Rangers have responded to that League Cup exit with four wins in a row in their best top-flight start since 1928 as they prepare to host reigning champions Celtic.
Despite the end of their seven-game unbeaten home run, St Mirren remain seventh.
Considering that League Cup result, and the fact St Mirren had made their best league start since 1988, this was always going to be a big test for Rangers’ title credentials.
It was no surprise home manager Jim Goodwin returned to the more defensive starting line-up that secured their place in the semi-finals and Jamie McGrath, scorer of two of their goals that night, was first to threaten as the midfielder dispossessed a lazy Steven Davis and fired a low drive straight at goalkeeper Allan McGregor.
St Mirren were looking as full of confidence as Rangers were with trepidation as two of the three players returning to the home line-up combined to give the visitors another scare.
McGregor, making his 400th appearance during two spells with the Ibrox club, was unable to hold Dylan Connolly’s low shot through a sea of legs and Obika could only scoop his close-range shot on the turn over the crossbar.
But St Mirren’s early work was undone when Ianis Hagi pounced on a mix-up between two opponents and played through for Roofe to fire past goalkeeper Jak Alnwick via a deflection off the hosts’ other League Cup scorer, Conor McCarthy.
The striker’s 10th goal in 14 games was quickly followed by Morelos’ first in nine as the Colombia international pounced on Joe Shaughnessy’s messy backpass to slot past former Rangers goalkeeper Alnwick.
St Mirren again started the better after the break, but it was Rangers who came closest to adding to the scoreline as Alnwick saved from Morelos and the visitors appeared able to coast the rest of the game as they preserved energy for that even bigger test to come.
Man of the match – Jonathan Obika
What did we learn?
Lightning did not strike twice for St Mirren – it rarely does for provincial sides against either half of the Old Firm – but they can take heart from troubling the league leaders once again.
Goodwin got his tactics spot on and will hope this is a mere blip in a fine run since ending a run of six straight defeats in October around the time of their Covid outbreak.
Rangers, meanwhile, continue to grind out the results despite in recent weeks failing to replicate their early season fluency but will need to combine those elements of teamwork and tenacity to overcome a Celtic side recovering from their own sticky patch.
It was also a win achieved while dropping winger Ryan Kent to the bench and that, along with Morelos’ goal on being restored to the starting line-up, leaves Gerrard with some big decisions to make on Saturday.
What they said
St Mirren manager Jim Goodwin: “We always knew how difficult a task it was going to be and I don’t think we did enough to win the game, but I thought we controlled long periods of the game without really troubling Rangers. We gave away a couple of cheap goals – one a deflection and one a mistake – but the players gave me everything and I can’t fault them.”
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard tells his club website: “We asked the players to own the pitch and to see if we can get back to keeping clean sheets on the bounce and we’ve delivered that. Out of possession, we weren’t caused any problems apart from a few nervy moments, but in the main we’ve managed it really well. In the main, we’re happy and we move into the weekend in a good place.”
Rangers head for what could be a title-deciding top-of-the-table match at home to Celtic on Saturday (12:30 GMT) before St Mirren visit a Kilmarnock side two points below them in the table (15:00).
- 4ShaughnessyBooked at 71mins
- 21ConnollySubstituted forMcAllisterat 82′minutes
- 17McGrathSubstituted forDennisat 77′minutes
- 25ErhahonSubstituted forMacPhersonat 85′minutes
- 3MasonSubstituted forDurmusat 77′minutes
- 9ObikaBooked at 53mins
- 2TavernierBooked at 29minsSubstituted forBalogunat 89′minutes
- 7HagiSubstituted forZunguat 80′minutes
- 25RoofeSubstituted forKentat 74′minutes
- Alan Muir
Match ends, St. Mirren 0, Rangers 2.
Second Half ends, St. Mirren 0, Rangers 2.
Allan McGregor (Rangers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Kristian Dennis (St. Mirren).
Corner, St. Mirren. Conceded by Leon Balogun.
Attempt blocked. Kristian Dennis (St. Mirren) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Attempt blocked. Kristian Dennis (St. Mirren) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Corner, St. Mirren. Conceded by Bongani Zungu.
Substitution, Rangers. Leon Balogun replaces James Tavernier.
Attempt missed. Cameron MacPherson (St. Mirren) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Jonathan Obika.
Attempt blocked. Bongani Zungu (Rangers) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Alfredo Morelos.
Substitution, St. Mirren. Cameron MacPherson replaces Ethan Erhahon.
Alfredo Morelos (Rangers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Jake Doyle-Hayes (St. Mirren).
Offside, Rangers. Steven Davis tries a through ball, but James Tavernier is caught offside.
Hand ball by Kyle McAllister (St. Mirren).
Substitution, St. Mirren. Kyle McAllister replaces Dylan Connolly.
Corner, St. Mirren. Conceded by Borna Barisic.
Substitution, Rangers. Bongani Zungu replaces Ianis Hagi.
Substitution, St. Mirren. Ilkay Durmus replaces Brandon Mason.