RANGERS are now 22 points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership after Alfredo Morelos’ double was enough to beat 10-man Aberdeen at Pittodrie.
Steven Gerrard’s side made it 15 league wins in a row as they bid to win a first top-flight title since 2011 and deny Celtic 10 championships in a row.
James Tavernier missed a penalty after Ryan Hedges was sent off, then Morelos scored either side of half-time.
Kennedy did pull one back for Aberdeen as they improved late on.
But Derek McInnes’ side’s six-game unbeaten run came to an end as they failed to narrow the gap on second-place Celtic.
Rangers, without a league loss all season and fresh from an Old Firm victory over Celtic, knew taking three points on Sunday would take them another step closer to the title.
And while Gerrard had suffered three defeats against Aberdeen, he had yet to lose at Pittodrie.
Between them, Rangers’ Morelos and Aberdeen’s Sam Cosgrove netted 52 times last season.
This term, their clinical edge has often deserted them, and in the early minutes the pair passed up golden opportunities – getting ahead of their markers to long balls but failing to test the goalkeeper.
While Rangers were not getting everything their own way, they were still making the better chances. Ianis Hagi whistled over, Ryan Kent’s free shot inside the box was cleared off the line by Jonny Hayes, and Joe Lewis denied Tavernier.
Aberdeen were repelling what was being thrown at them, but then they were down to 10 men before the half hour.
Hedges nicked the legs of Morelos in the box, sending him hurtling to the ground as he bore down on goal and referee John Beaton awarded the penalty and issued a red card. Tavernier, who had previously scored 10 times against Aberdeen, this time sent his spot-kick wide.
However, it was just a momentary let-off for the home side before Morelos collected a short ball, took a neat first touch, turned and fired low into the net.
Curtis Main was fortunate to escape a red card shortly afterwards when he took out Rangers’ Borna Barisic with his studs up. He received just a yellow, but his afternoon was over moments later when manager McInnes hauled him off.
It already looked like damage limitation for Aberdeen, and shortly after half-time it was 2-0. Another well-worked move allowed Morelos to latch on to a Kent backheel and smash the ball low into the net.
Kent and Hayes forced saves at both ends but, as the game looked to be comfortable for the visitors, Aberdeen pulled one back when Hayes raced at the defence and cut across to Kennedy, who finished low past Allan McGregor.
As time ticked on, Rangers looked tired – despite the extra man – and Aberdeen were getting more of the ball but could not hurt the visitors. And the best chance of the final stages fell to Rangers when Glen Kamara broke into the box and Lewis had to block his near-post shot.
Man of the match – Alfredo Morelos
After just one goal since November, Morelos looked far sharper in the Rangers attack, pouncing twice inside the box
What did we learn?
McInnes had demanded more of a performance from Aberdeen than the previous two limp showings against Rangers this season, and for 20 minutes they certainly showed more aggression.
But after the red card it looked like game over and the hosts struggled to find any sort of shape as they were moved all over the place. But they rallied late on and made it a nervy ending for Gerrard’s side.
Kent and Morelos have struggled for form in recent weeks, but both stepped up as Rangers took full advantage of the extra man.
What did they say?
Aberdeen: Derek McInnes defends Curtis Main challenge
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes: “Ryan has done everything not to bring him down. You would think that would have some bearing on the decision. But [referee] John Beaton explained to me at half-time he had nowhere to go with the decision.
“I said to my staff ‘we’ll find out a lot about my team in the second half’ because the last team you want to go a man down to is Rangers. I thought the players were excellent.”
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard: “I thought we were excellent up until 2-0. At 2-0, we changed our mentality and mindset. We were making passes and decisions we didn’t need to make.
“I’m looking for more leadership on the pitch. There’s a lot of things we need to look at, but to take nine from nine from Aberdeen is a big effort from the boys.”
Aberdeen travel to Livingston on Wednesday for their rearranged Scottish Premiership match (19:45 GMT kick-off). Rangers are not in action until Sunday, when they travel to Motherwell (12:00).
– Jan. 11, 2021 @ 08:21 GMT |