James Tavernier continued his incredible scoring streak as his 16th goal of the campaign helped relentless Rangers to a 4-0 win at Ross County.
The right-back now sits just one behind his best-ever single-season tally after scoring from open play for the seventh time this term to add to the nine penalties he has also converted. His assist numbers also make for impressive reading. He played a part in both Kemar Roofe’s opener and a Callum Morris own goal, meaning he has now set up 12 goals.
Jermain Defoe came off the bench to mark his 800th career appearance with the fourth goal in the last minute as Steven Gerrard’s men wrapped up yet another win to maintain their tight grip on the lead.
But the 300 County fans granted access to the Global Energy Stadium walked away at full-time fearing what lies ahead with their side now just a point off the bottom of the table. It was not the result they were hoping for after last week’s shock Betfred Cup win at Celtic Park.
The hosts were unable to call upon Stephen Kelly to face his parent club after his starring role against Celtic. Charlie Lakin also dropped out as Michael Gardyne and Jordan Tillson returned. Rangers also made two changes after booking a place in the last 32 of the Europa League with Thursday’s win against Standard Liège as Calvin Bassey and Joe Aribo came in to give Borna Barisic and Scott Arfield a rest.
That Parkhead win had supercharged County’s confidence levels after a recent sticky patch. And they certainly had no lack of self-belief as they stood up to Gerrard’s all-conquering Gers in the first 25 minutes. They may even have put themselves on course for another surprise win had Harry Paton found a way past goalkeeper Allan McGregor as he raced onto Iain Vigurs’ long pass.
The goalkeeper’s stunning one-handed stop was a moment of top quality and was matched three minutes later by the Steven Davis pass which set up Rangers’ opener.
The Northern Ireland captain measured his ball in behind Josh Reid to perfection, with Tavernier’s cross just as well placed for Roofe as he got between Morris and Coll Donaldson to steer home.
Roofe almost had a second moments later as Alfredo Morelos’s drive broke into his path but the former Leeds forward’s rising strike crept just over.
The first half ended with a flashpoint when Vigurs crunched into Morelos. Referee John Beaton booked the County captain before also flashing yellow to Gardyne, apparently for dissent. But that did not quell Rangers’ fury amid allegations of an inappropriate remark. Connor Goldson was visibly furious, while Gerrard marched onto the pitch to confront the official at half-time.
Calm had been restored by the time the teams returned for the second period and Rangers stepped things up. The Staggies were forced to scramble clear as Ross Laidlaw parried Roofe’s header before Morris’s last-ditch tackle on the rebound stopped Morelos adding a second.
But their luck was out as Tavernier grabbed his 16th goal of the season after 58 minutes. Morelos’s deflected strike broke to Ryan Kent, who fired a first-time cross into the six-yard box. Roofe’s effort was blocked by Reid but the ball ricocheted into Tavernier’s shins before bouncing over the line.
It was not the prettiest goal but deserved reward for the Ibrox captain’s desire to get himself into the danger zone from right-back at every opportunity.
County full-back Connor Randall should have repeated that feat at the other end as Reid’s cross broke to him five yards out but the half-time substitute blazed a golden opportunity over the bar.
Tavernier was involved again in the third goal after 72 minutes as he raced onto Goldson’s ball down the right. He was looking to tee-up Morelos but Morris provided the touch as he bundled the ball into his own net. And Defoe marked his latest career milestone with a last-minute goal as he spun and fired past Laidlaw after Cedric Itten had robbed Donaldson.