Ryan Kent scored a late winner for Rangers at Ross County
Ryan Kent’s deflected late winner got Rangers back to winning ways despite a nervy and error-strewn Scottish Premiership display at Ross County.
In a stale show from the visitors, they had goalkeeper Allan McGregor to thank for keeping them level.
But hosts County could not find a clinical edge to make promising second-half chances count and were punished when Kent found the net late on.
The win moves Rangers back to within 13 points of Premiership leaders Celtic.
And, after three domestic games without a win, it offers some much-needed confidence for Steven Gerrard’s side before Thursday’s Europa League last-16 visit of Bayer Leverkusen.
County remain six points clear of bottom-of-the-table Hearts, with their next three games all against the three sides below them in the division as they look to maintain their Premiership status.
Kent lifts Rangers’ mood
On Rangers’ last trip to Dingwall in October, braces from Ryan Jack and Alfredo Morelos helped them to a thumping 4-0 win as they kept up the pace with Celtic.
Back then things seemed simple. It was their ninth win in 11 games and days later they thumped Hearts to reach the League Cup final. They were a team motoring, on song and battling for every trophy going.
This time they arrived without a win in three, defeat in their last two without a goal scored, languishing 16 points behind Celtic and with silverware looking unlikely. Shorn of Jermain Defoe, James Tavernier and Ryan Jack through injury, manager Gerrard did not have his troubles to seek.
And they were travelling into the unknown, because no-one knows what County team will turn up each week; victory over Livingston followed by defeat by Hibs, a morale-boosting win at Pittodrie before a confidence-crushing hammering at Motherwell.
County have conceded more goals from set pieces than anyone else this season, and Rangers appeared determined to add a 19th goal to the list with a series of early corners, but everything was scrappy with little fluency from the visitors.
Alfredo Morelos had two sniffs of goal – a header wide before he was muscled out by Marcus Fraser. Steven Davis fired a shot down the throat of the goalkeeper. But it was poor fare in the Dingwall drizzle.
A low ball into the box hit the hand of grounded County defender Liam Fontaine but was not enough to convince referee Andrew Dallas to point to the penalty spot. The half-hearted protests were about as animated as it got in the first 45 minutes.
The second half had to be better, and it was, but for the home side. Don Cowie pick-pocketed a sleeping Joe Aribo and knocked the ball to Billy Mckay, whose shot rocketed off the legs of McGregor.
Josh Mullin then drove through the middle with four Rangers red shirts for company. He offered Ross Stewart a fine ball in space on the left, but the striker lashed it over the bar.
Mullin was growing in confidence. Another run through the middle, this time he took the shot on and McGregor had to tip over.
Rangers were offering little in return, half chances aside from Ianis Hagi and Florian Kamberi. They did, though, again test County’s mettle from corners, and Aribo and George Edmundson both threatened with headers.
But just as the crisis headlines were being composed, Kent received the ball on the right, stepped onto his left foot, and found the net with help from a deflection off Richard Foster to break the deadlock.
Kamberi and Jordan Jones both could have sealed the win had they got shots away inside the box, but Kent’s goal was enough to clinch the points.
Man of the match – Allan McGregor
In a game that for much of the 90 minutes had little action, Rangers’ Aribo and County’s Mullin were the ones trying to make things happen; carrying the ball through the middle with enterprising runs.
But as Rangers toiled it was McGregor’s fine saves to deny Mckay and Mullin that proved crucial to ensure Rangers did not suffer a third defeat in a row.
‘We needed to take chances’ – reaction
Ross County co-manager Steven Ferguson: “We felt our game plan was good and were in the game from start to finish. We had three really good chances and you really need to take one of them.
“We need an element of luck that we never really got. With the goal they got there were a couple of wee deflections in there and you need a wee bit of luck for that to go the other side of the post.”
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard: “It’s a big win and three points, something for us to build on. We can certainly find higher levels and have looked better during the season.
“But we came up here to do a job after a difficult week. It was about getting the three points in any way, shape or form. Credit to the players for delivering that.”
- Match Stats
- Live Text
- 5MorrisBooked at 90mins
- 4FontaineBooked at 12mins
- 22TillsonSubstituted forErwinat 88'minutes
- 26CowieSubstituted forSpittalat 82'minutesBooked at 90mins
- 11VigursSubstituted forSpenceat 84'minutes
- 27StewartBooked at 56mins
- 18KamaraSubstituted forJonesat 77'minutes
- 7HagiSubstituted forKamberiat 63'minutes
- 20MorelosSubstituted forKaticat 89'minutes
Home TeamRoss CountyAway TeamRangersPossessionHome37%Away63%ShotsHome3Away12Shots on TargetHome2Away7CornersHome5Away15FoulsHome13Away8
Match ends, Ross County 0, Rangers 1.