Todd Cantwell’s terrific second-half volley was enough to give Rangers a 1-0 cinch Premiership win over Aberdeen at Ibrox.
On the day Celtic retained the league title with a 2-0 win over Hearts at Tynecastle, the former Norwich midfielder gave the home fans something to cheer about in the 65th minute with a fine finish from a James Tavernier corner.
Barry Robson’s rejuvenated Dons beat Rangers 2-0 at Pittodrie two weeks ago in the last game before the split and they had their chances again but it turned out to be a first defeat in eight for the third-placed visitors.
Michael Beale’s side had lost three out of their last four, including a Scottish Cup semi-final loss to Celtic at Hampden Park last Sunday, so will welcome a return to winning ways, albeit via a patchy performance.
The fall-out from the Celtic defeat put pressure on the Gers boss, who has not beaten the Hoops in four attempts since taking over from Giovanni van Bronckhorst in November.
With Malik Tillman, Ryan Kent and Borna Barisic out injured, some of the changes the former QPR boss had promised were enforced.
Ridvan Yilmaz came in at left-back and there was a new front three of Ianis Hagi, Fashion Sakala and Rabbi Matondo.
Veteran goalkeeper Allan McGregor dropped out the squad altogether to be replaced by Robby McCrorie, playing for the first time since a 1-0 win over Celtic in August 2021.
Dons right-back Hayden Coulson took over from Ross McCrorie, twin brother of the Rangers keeper, with the firepower coming in the shape of attackers Luis ‘Duk’ Lopes and Bojan Miovski, who have scored 18 goals apiece for Aberdeen so far this season.
Rangers made a bright start, with Cantwell twice going close from decent drives.
McCrorie showed his worth in the 27th minute when, after Sakala lost possession, Miovski broke clear of the Gers defence and squared to Duk inside the box but the home keeper blocked the angled drive for a corner which came to nothing.
In the 34th minute, Connor Goldson grappled with Duk at the edge of Rangers penalty area but only a corner was given, perhaps fortunately for the Light Blues defender.
Rangers stepped up the pressure and Aberdeen keeper Kelle Roos saved a Hagi header under pressure from Sakala before making a great block from the Zambia international’s close-range drive, then saving a Tavernier shot just before the break.
Amid all that, Duk escaped the Gers defence only to chip the ball over the bar from the edge of the box with only McCrorie to beat.
Rangers, with John Souttar replacing injured centre-back Ben Davies just before the interval, went close at the start of the second half when Aberdeen captain Jonny Hayes inadvertently smashed a Matondo cut-back against his own crossbar.
Sakala had the ball in the net in the 51st minute but was ruled offside before McCrorie tipped a Mattie Pollock header over the bar following a Dons corner.
However, Rangers eventually forged ahead when Cantwell dropped off to the back of the penalty area to volley Tavernier’s deep corner low into the corner of the net, with Hayes on the line but appearing to think the ball was going wide.
Beale immediately brought on Alfredo Morelos, Scott Arfield, Glen Kamara and Scott Wright for Hagi, Sakala, Matondo and Raskin and the final stages were suitably disjointed.
Aberdeen went all out for the leveller and in the 83rd minute McCrorie again blocked a shot from substitute Shayden Morris with his foot as Rangers saw the game out.
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