Alfredo Morelos made a superb return to form against 10-man Aberdeen as his brace drew Rangers 22 points clear atop the Premiership.
While Rangers captain James Tavernier failed to make a 10 in a row from the penalty spot, Steven Gerrard’s side scored another huge result in their pursuit of the No. 55 title thanks to Morelos in of victory 2-1 at Pittodria.
The Colombian hasn’t been at his prolific best this term but produced two finishes to win the game.
Tavernier should have put the leaders on the run ahead when Ryan Hedges was sent off in the 26th minute for fouling Morelos – but he fell 12 yards for the first time since October 2019.
But the Rangers – who started the season with a win at Aberdeen – managed their first Pittodrie brace since 2011. Aberdeen remains third but will be disappointed they couldn’t put more pressure on the visitors in the final stages after Matty Kennedy pulled one out 23 minutes from the end.
Neither of the two defenses covered themselves with glory during a sloppy start to the match. Ash Taylor was the first to pass out as he let a Tavernier ball fly over his head in the opening 30 seconds, with the Aberdeen defender grateful to see Morelos score his shot.
The Rangers center-backs were just as lethargic as the Hedges forward was allowed to rebound for Curtis Main. His punching partner, Sam Cosgrove, ran all the way to the flick-on as Connor Goldson took to the ground far too easily, but he spoiled his finish despite having only Allan McGregor to beat.
At first it seemed that the two teams were preparing for an open and entertaining affair. Ianis Hagi sparkled one over the bar for the Rangers as Scott Wright’s pace threatened the hosts on the left. But the leaders of the league quickly found their rhythm and grabbed the game by the skin of the neck.
Aberdeen had Jonny Hayes to thank as he started a Ryan Kent effort off the line before Joe Lewis parried Tavernier’s follow-up. They should have fallen behind when Tavernier’s flawless kicking streak came to an end. Morelos worked a smart brace with Joe Aribo before breaking into the box. He prepared to shoot, but Hedges cut off his heels from behind. The referee, John Beaton, sent off Hedges but Taverniers’ penalty escaped the post.
But Tavernier played a key role as the Rangers led five minutes later. Kent scooped Tavernier’s low ball in the box before feeding Morelos. The striker took his chance to turn and pierce a fabulous finish ahead of Lewis.
Things almost got worse for Aberdeen just before the break as Main took on a challenge against Borna Barisic. Beaton decided it was a yellow, but McInnes decided keeping the attacker was no longer worth the risk and immediately replaced him with Shay Logan.
But it made no difference for the league leaders who scored a second with five minutes left in the second half.
Once again, the threat came from the right as Aribo sent the ball into the penalty area. Another deft shot from Kent revealed Morelos and the 24-year-old scored his 10th goal of the season at home.
But Aberdeen was cleared to catch a lifeline after 67 minutes when the Light Blues’ defense died down. Cosgrove sent the ball right for Hayes, who cut back on the replacement for anonymous substitute Kennedy at home. It was the wake-up call the Rangers needed as they carefully managed their way to a 15th straight win.
Alan Forrest came off the bench to shoot Livingston to an eighth consecutive victory under David Martindale. Forrest put Livingston in the lead against Ross County and prepared Jack Hamilton to seal a 3-1 victory. Scott Robinson gave Livi an early lead but Charlie Lakin equalized.
Celtic confirmed that one of their players tested positive for coronavirus after the club’s controversial training camp in Dubai. The team was tested on their return to Glasgow after spending six days in the United Arab Emirates.
A statement from the club on Sunday afternoon read: “Celtic confirmed today that a player has tested positive for Covid-19. It is clear that the player will receive all of our care and support. Everyone else on our team, our management team and our back office team is negative. ”
Celtic had previously faced criticism for their warm-weather training camp, with Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon questioning whether he was following social distancing rules after photos were posted on social media.
Celtic are expected to host Hibernian in the Scottish Premiership on Monday night.