A PERFECTLY-taken James Tavernier penalty on 19 minutes was enough to secure three valuable Premiership points for Rangers at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park.
The Light Blues again put in a strong, determined display to record their 16th victory of the season – the 11th in the league - as well as a 15th clean sheet.
The only goal came from the spot after Ross Millen handled the ball in the box. Tavernier stepped up and with great coolness and composure the Gers captain beat Danny Rogers for his tenth goal of 2020/21 and his sixth penalty.
The result at the final whistle was no more than Steven Gerrard’s men deserved but they had to show their resilience and battle until the end – in horrendous conditions - to claim a hugely important away win.
Kilmarnock got the match underway from kick-off with Rangers wearing their orange and black third kit.
The visitors showed great intensity in the early stages and after just six minutes carved open the first goalscoring chance of the game. Cedric Itten found space on the right and the Swiss forward cut the ball back for Ryan Kent but his near-post shot was blocked by Kirk Broadfoot.
Itten then had an effort from 15 yards, which was again blocked, before Joe Aribo pinged a soaring half-volley which went inches over the crossbar.
On 18 minutes the early opportunity to break the deadlock arrived for the Light Blues when referee Andrew Dallas correctly pointed to the penalty spot.
Borna Barisic’s free-kick from midway inside Killie’s half was met by Connor Goldson in the box but the home side’s Millen had his hand above his head and the ball clearly struck it.
Tavernier again took on the responsibility and he confidently curled his spot kick beyond Danny Rogers into the side netting, with the keeper diving to his right but unable to get near it such was the accuracy of the strike from 12 yards.
Despite having played in the Europa League on Thursday night, Rangers were playing with a tempo, aggression and speed that Killie were struggling to cope with, and at the half-hour mark Gerrard’s men were well on top.
On 35 minutes another header from Goldson, this time from a Tavernier corner, flew across goal and wide of Rogers’ far post.
The pressure was again building and when Kent, with his back to goal, fed the ball back to Aribo, the Nigerian international’s deflected shot from 18 yards squirmed past the post.
Despite their dominance and impressive hard work in the first forty-five, Rangers were unable to double their advantage before the break, with a powerful Chris Burke free-kick from 30 yards, which was straight at Allan McGregor, coming at the end of an entertaining half of football.
From the restart the Gers continued where they left off as they went in search of a second goal. Scott Arfield had an effort blocked from Kent’s cross before, in the next attack, Alfredo Morelos’ turn and shot in the box hit a defender and went out for a corner.
At the other end of the artificial pitch, Killie had had their best attempt at goal up to this point, with McGregor having to be alive to make a save from Alan Power after he flicked the ball over a Gers defender with his right foot and then volleyed with his left.
On 57 minutes the league leaders should have been two goals up. A great dummy from Morelos allowed the ball to run through to Kent who side-stepped a defender brilliantly to get into a shooting position. But with time and space and just inside the 18-yard box, the winger’s left-foot effort allowed Rogers to make an important stop.
Steven Davis brought fresh legs to the Rangers team when he replaced Aribo with 65 minutes on the clock, and the switch came at a time when Killie were starting to get men forward.
A powerful drive from Rory McKenzie went wide of McGregor’s far post before Burke curled an inviting, inswinging cross into the danger area but Goldson headed clear.
Rangers regrouped and again had a great opportunity to increase their lead. Davis’ clipped delivery dropped to Itten who, from five yards, failed to beat Rogers.
No second goal meant the last 10 minutes of the game were nervy for the Gers and, with the wind swirling and the rain now lashing down on the players, McGregor had to make a fine save from an Eamonn Brophy free-kick.
Three minutes of injury time were confirmed by the fourth official but the visitors held out to secure three points they thoroughly deserved.
KILMARNOCK: Rogers, Millen, Broadfoot, Findlay, Waters, Tshibola (Mulumbu 78), Dicker, Power, Burke (Pinnock 78), McKenzie, Kabamba (Brophy 74)
SUBS NOT USED: Doyle, McGowan, Haunstrup, Kiltie, Whitehall, Rossi
BOOKINGS: Waters, Tshibola
RANGERS: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Helander, Barisic, Arfield, Jack, Aribo (Davis 65), Itten, Morelos (Balogun 86), Kent
SUBS NOT USED: McLaughlin, Bassey, Hagi, Defoe, Kamara, Barker, Roofe
GOALS: Tavernier 19pen
BOOKINGS: Barisic, Goldson
REF: Andrew Dallas
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