Ronnie Esplin, PA
Michael Beale’s Rangers bandwagon continued rolling but not without some fortune amid a second-half fright from Ross County at Ibrox.
Malky Mackay’s side had proved resolute in defence before early substitute Malik Tillman put the Light Blues in front with a header in first-half added time – but the visitors stuck to their task after the break and striker Jordan White levelled in the 65th minute with a header.
However, left-back Borna Barisic’s deflected free-kick in the 75th minute restored the Gers’ lead for a nervy 2-1 victory, leaving the Staggies still looking for their first win over the Govan club.
Beale is unbeaten in 12 games – 11 wins and a draw – since taking over as Gers boss in November and Rangers moved to within six points of cinch Premiership leaders Celtic, who play at St Johnstone on Sunday – but it was a patchy performance.
Everything around the Ibrox club was positive ahead of the game following the comprehensive 3-0 win at Hearts on Wednesday night, arguably the Gers’ best performance of the season.
Belgian midfielder Nicolas Raskin, the new signing from Standard Liege, started on the bench as Beale made three changes.
Jon McLaughlin took over from Allan McGregor in goal, with midfielders Ryan Jack and Todd Cantwell in for Glen Kamara and Tillman.
However, County, with midfielders Nohan Kenneh and Victor Loturi in for Ross Callachan and Jordan Tillson, threatened first after a slack pass by Light Blues midfielder John Lundstram. George Harmon and Eamonn Brophy had shots blocked for a corner which came to nothing but offered encouragement.
Lundstram picked up a knock after 11 minutes and was replaced by Tillman and two minutes later the 20-year-old Bayern Munich loanee caused havoc in the Staggies box before Cantwell latched on to the clearance and skimmed the bar with a side-footed shot from the edge of the box.
The match was relatively open. Ibrox skipper James Tavernier blazed a drive over the bar in the 20th minute before McLaughlin saved from an Alex Iacovitti header at the other end.
Gers striker Alfredo Morelos had a couple of efforts on goal to no avail but just as the first 45 minutes looked to be ending goalless, Cantwell played a one-two with the Colombia striker and stood up a cross from the by-line for Tillman to head in from close range for his eighth goal of the season.
There was time for Morelos to head over from close range when he should have hit the target.
Simon Murray replaced fellow January signing Brophy for the start of the second half which, from a Rangers perspective, took time to get going.
Kamara came on for the out-of-touch Fashion Sakala in the 62nd minute and moments later McLaughlin had to tip a powerful drive from Kenneh over the bar for the first of three successive corners – the last of which saw Yan Dhanda receive a short corner and flight a ball in for White to flash in a header with McLaughlin flailing.
It left Ibrox stunned and the home side had to respond.
Ryan Kent’s drive drew a great save from Ross Laidlaw but the visiting keeper had no luck with Barisic’s free-kick just outside the box, the ball taking a nick off the top of the wall to leave Laidlaw flat-footed as the ball sped in at the far post.
Rangers rode the wave of energy for a spell. A shot on the turn from Morelos drew a smart save from Laidlaw before Raskin came on to make his Gers debut, along with fellow substitutes Scott Wright and Antonio Colak.
They could not avert an anxious final few minutes where the home side ended up somewhat hanging on.