Alfredo Morelos’ late winner helped Rangers come from behind to beat St Johnstone and move within a point of Scottish Premiership leaders Celtic.
The Colombian striker took his tally for the season to 19 with just two minutes to play, volleying in James Tavernier’s teasing delivery.
Morelos’ downward header from a Glenn Middleton cross had cancelled out Matty Kennedy’s thunderous first-half opener.
It earned Steven Gerrard’s side a fourth win in a row at McDiarmid Park.
It was also the first time in six games that the Ibrox side had scored more than once, with the second-half introductions of Middleton and Kyle Lafferty swinging the game in Rangers’ favour.
A win would have moved St Johnstone into fifth place, but a second consecutive defeat after an eight-game unbeaten run instead leaves the Perth side eighth.
Jekyll and Hyde Rangers
For all the praise Rangers have received under Gerrard – and having recently topped the table – they arrived in Perth have only won one of their last five games, scoring twice.
A lack of creativity from central midfield has been a problem and, with Ovie Ejaria returning to Liverpool, their resources were further stretched by the absence of Scott Arfield and Ryan Jack – and it showed.
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright decided to crowd that area, with two midfielders starting in place of two forwards and Kennedy playing as a lone striker – hardly surprising considering they had shipped seven goals in their last two games against the visitors – and it worked a treat.
The plan could have been undone within four minutes had Andy Halliday not side-footed wide after stealing in, while efforts from Joe Worrall and Morelos went close as Rangers saw more of the ball.
However, St Johnstone were growing into the game, with Murray Davidson lofting a shot just over, while Liam Craig should have done better than head wide from close range. That swelling confidence was fuelled by the tendency of Rangers’ two centre-back to cheaply concede possession.
Minutes after Lee Wallace replaced the injured Borna Barisic to make just his second appearance in 15 months, the left-back was posted missing as Kennedy gathered a cross in plenty of space at the back post, turned inside flailing Rangers bodies and fired his sixth goal of the season high into the net.
Gerrard threw on winger Middleton and striker Lafferty after the break and it was the former who supplied the cross that found Morelos stealing between two defenders to head his 18th goal of the campaign.
The Jekyll and Hyde nature of Rangers contributed to an exciting finale. Their defensive frailties were exposed with a Kennedy drive curling just wide and Allan McGregor having to beat away a Blair Alston drive. Meanwhile, their potent attack came to life as Zander Clark saved well from Daniel Candeias, Lafferty and Morelos.
Contrasting fortunes within a matter of seconds decided the game. Alston headed just over from a Richard Foster cross after an incisive break and Rangers raced up the other end, with Morelos finishing after being picked out by Tavernier.
Rangers players and management had gone into the game talking about targeting a three-game winning finish to the year. They remain on course, but to earn victories over Hibernian and Celtic they will have to address their deficiencies after coming so close to falling at the first hurdle.
‘Lafferty & Morelos make difference’ – analysis
BBC Scotland’s Brian McLauchlin at McDiarmid Park
Wright set out his stall from the outset with Kennedy given the unenviable task of lone striker against the substantially taller and more physical Rangers defence. His work-rate, however, was phenomenal and he deserved his goal and the standing ovation he received when he was replaced.
St Johnstone will play worse and win games and they should also head into the latter part of the campaign with a positive outlook.
Credit though has to be given to Gerrard. The Rangers boss’s decision to send on Lafferty just 10 minutes into the second half was the turning point of the match. Until then, the Ibrox outfit looked laboured..
Morelos, though, scored two of the most clinical finishes you will see. His value to the Ibrox club is immense and, if Rangers are to maintain the pressure on Celtic into the second half of the season, he will be required to maintain his scoring rate.
- 4AlstonBooked at 87mins
- 26CraigBooked at 54mins
- 10WotherspoonSubstituted forWattat 74′minutesBooked at 90mins
- 33KennedySubstituted forSwansonat 81′minutes
- 6GoldsonBooked at 62mins
- 31BarisicSubstituted forWallaceat 41′minutes
- 23CoulibalySubstituted forLaffertyat 56′minutes
- 35GrezdaSubstituted forMiddletonat 45′minutes
- 20MorelosBooked at 89mins
- Nick Walsh
- Shots on Target
Match ends, St. Johnstone 1, Rangers 2.
Second Half ends, St. Johnstone 1, Rangers 2.
Connor Goldson (Rangers) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Danny Swanson (St. Johnstone).
Tony Watt (St. Johnstone) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Connor Goldson (Rangers) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Tony Watt (St. Johnstone).
Attempt missed. Jason Kerr (St. Johnstone) header from the centre of the box misses to the right.
Attempt missed. Ross Callachan (St. Johnstone) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the left.
Alfredo Morelos (Rangers) is shown the yellow card for excessive celebration.
Goal! St. Johnstone 1, Rangers 2. Alfredo Morelos (Rangers) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the top right corner. Assisted by James Tavernier with a cross.
Attempt missed. Blair Alston (St. Johnstone) header from the centre of the box is just a bit too high following a fast break.
Attempt blocked. Andy Halliday (Rangers) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Blair Alston (St. Johnstone) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Andy Halliday (Rangers) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Blair Alston (St. Johnstone).
Corner, Rangers. Conceded by Zander Clark.
Attempt saved. Kyle Lafferty (Rangers) right footed shot from the right side of the six yard box is saved in the bottom right corner.
Delay in match Danny Swanson (St. Johnstone) because of an injury.
Corner, Rangers. Conceded by Joe Shaughnessy.
Foul by Murray Davidson (St. Johnstone).
Kyle Lafferty (Rangers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt saved. Kyle Lafferty (Rangers) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom left corner.
Substitution, St. Johnstone. Danny Swanson replaces Matthew Kennedy.
Andy Halliday (Rangers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Matthew Kennedy (St. Johnstone).
Corner, St. Johnstone. Conceded by Allan McGregor.
Foul by Lee Wallace (Rangers).
Matthew Kennedy (St. Johnstone) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Alfredo Morelos (Rangers).
Jason Kerr (St. Johnstone) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, St. Johnstone. Tony Watt replaces David Wotherspoon.
Attempt missed. Lee Wallace (Rangers) left footed shot from outside the box misses to the right.
Attempt blocked. Kyle Lafferty (Rangers) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Attempt saved. Daniel Candeias (Rangers) right footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner.
Attempt saved. Blair Alston (St. Johnstone) right footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner.
Alfredo Morelos (Rangers) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Joe Shaughnessy (St. Johnstone).
Attempt missed. Ross McCrorie (Rangers) left footed shot from outside the box is too high.
Attempt missed. Matthew Kennedy (St. Johnstone) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the right.